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Justice O’Connor

April 10, 2011 by staff 

Justice O’Connor, Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor continues to hear cases in U.S. appellate courts, while also playing an important role in public policy issues. His critics say he should do one or the other but not both.

O’Connor, 81, was forced to apologize for 50,000 recorded phone calls made to voters in Nevada supported a ballot measure to change the way state judges are selected. O’Connor said he had not authorized the calls with your voice recorded, let alone delivery after midnight. But he also defended her involvement in the campaign that included her appearance in a television commercial.

In September, federal judges in Iowa on the sidelines of a conference on judicial elections in which O’Connor spoke in the midst of another campaign on ballot issues. The judges had received an informal opinion that their presence would violate the code of ethics of the judiciary.

More recently, O’Connor held a reception after the court schedule was presented as a celebration of Bristol Bay in Alaska. However, the main speakers, except O’Connor, oppose a proposed copper and gold mine in Alaska. They were in Washington to lobby lawmakers and regulators against the proposed Pebble Mine.

Arthur Hellman, an ethics expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said O’Connor should consider suspending its participation in court cases if they “want to participate in this level of political activity or political relations.”

Dyes partisan questioning of the conduct of judges of high courts has grown.

Liberal interest groups have failed Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas to speak at a private dinner hosted by Charles Koch, one of the two energy-owned company of brothers that liberal groups say they have too much influence on politicians.

Some liberals have asked Thomas to come to the expected high court fight over the health care bill because of public criticism of his wife from the law. Some conservatives said Elena Kagan Justice should not take part in the case of health care due to her work in the Obama administration before joining the court.

O’Connor has traveled the country since her retirement in to criticize costly election campaigns for state judges, promote improved civic education for children of school age and advocate for Alzheimer’s research. Her husband, John, died in 2009 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

His main focus has been on judicial independence, which she believes is adversely affected by the election of judges.

At the same time, she has heard cases on appeal since her retirement. It is not uncommon for retired judges to sit with the federal appellate courts from time to time. Justice David Souter, who left the court in 2009, has dealt with cases in court based in Boston.

Until the end of March, O’Connor has written two appeal decisions and joined most of the other in a half dozen this year. None of the cases involved judicial elections and the fate of the Bay of Alaska.

The court continued work allows O’Connor, who makes and, 900, to receive salary increases that are linked to inflation. Judges who fails to hear the cases receive a pension equal to her last annual salary of a full-time judge, but are excluded from further increases in living costs.

Last week, O’Connor hosted a reception in the Supreme Court to celebrate the economic, cultural and ecological Basin Bristol Bay in Alaska. ”

Opponents of the proposed mine near the bay huge fear that devastate world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery. Environmental Protection Agency recently said it would study the potential effects of the mine. EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson attended and spoke briefly at the reception.

O’Connor declined to answer questions of this story. But the head of Wild Salmon Center, sponsor of the event, said O’Connor’s participation came about because of her friendship and her love of fly-fishing.

Guido Rahr, director of the center, said his group has not taken a position on the mine and the speakers were careful to “ensure respect for the location” of the reception at the court.

Rahr said the participants, mostly “ate salmon tasty treats” and looked at National Geographic Photo of the bay.

But one of the speakers was a former Alaska state Senate President Rick Halford, who told reporters the day after the proposal was a “type very, very dangerous for me.”

The bill’s supporters made their own visit to Washington a few weeks earlier. None were in the high court.

Hellman, an expert on ethics of Pittsburgh, said the reception from the court of particular concern because “we’re talking about political activity. It is a lobbying effort and is lending her prestige to this effort.”

Another ethics professor Stephen Gillers of New York University said that if the speeches were not about defense, then the event itself, likely to pose no ethical problem O’Connor. On the other hand, Gillers said it is possible that O’Connor would step aside from any appeal case involving the groups that sponsored the reception.

The court welcomes 50-60 after-hours events each year, many related to the court. Guidelines for the use of the building to prohibit partisan political activity and fundraising, and require justice to sponsor an event. A cash bar and dancing are not allowed.

Supreme Court is not covered by ethics rules that apply to all federal judges. However, judges generally adhere to the rules, Hellman said.

O’Connor’s involvement in ballot issues last year in Iowa and Nevada also has made a rare criticism of another federal judge.

Judge Laurence Silberman of the federal appeals court in Washington, DC, said, “the question of whether state court judges should be elected or ratified by election or appointment only is a political matter in which federal judges serve not need public defender, in one way or the other. ”

Silberman said that unlike the criticism of Scalia and Thomas, calling it false issues, promoting O’Connor is a real ethical problem. ”

O’Connor participated in a conference in Des Moines, Iowa, in September on the issue of judicial elections. That appearance came during a campaign controversy over whether voters should retain three judges of the Supreme Court of Iowa that were part of a judicial decision unanimously in favor of gay marriage.

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