EDITORIAL: Justice shouldn’t be political

Sandra Day O’Connor crosses the line

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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has violated the Code of Conduct for United States judges. She should resign from her position as a roving judge on “senior status.” If she doesn’t resign, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. - at whose sole discretion she serves as a “pinch hitter” on lower federal courts - should no longer designate her for such duties.

In a controversial case Tuesday before a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Mrs. O’Connor provided the deciding vote in a 2-1 decision to throw out Arizona’s requirement that new voter registrants provide proof of citizenship. This was not just another lousy decision in Justice O’Connor’s long record of uneven jurisprudence. The deeper ethical problem is that she is active in political causes while continuing to serve as a judge.

This week, the retired justice was exposed for having recorded political robo-calls pushing a constitutional amendment in Nevada for state judges to be appointed by governors rather than elected by citizens. She claims she never gave permission for her recording to be used for robo-calls, but she recorded not just a voice message but also a video for a political group dedicated solely to passing this amendment - a group she leads as “honorary chairwoman.”

Mrs. O’Connor likewise has made appearances in Missouri and Iowa weighing in on those states’ judicial-selection processes and has written a New York Times column in support of specific legislation to provide greater funding for Alzheimer’s research. The latter might be a worthy goal, but her advocacy for it amounts to direct participation in inherently political activity.

As explained on National Review Online by Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the Code of Conduct specifically states that “a judge should refrain from political activity. A judge should not act as a leader or hold any office in a political organization; make speeches for a political organization. …” Ronald Rotunda, a professor at Chapman Law School and co-author of a widely used text on judicial ethics, told The Washington Times, “This is not a subtle point. First, she has stepped into a political battle, and secondly, she is leveraging her title as a judge. She is not supposed to step into a political thicket.”

Justice O’Connor is openly involved in political activity, and her recordings have even been used for political purposes by operatives of endangered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Such politicking in inappropriate for an active judge and mustn’t be tolerated.

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