NPR’s Totenberg Quotes Selected Parts of Speech by Former Justice O’Connor

Nina Totenberg of NPR logged a radio report this morning (audio link to follow) about a speech that former justice Sandra Day O’Connor gave at Georgetown University Thursday. Apparently, O’Connor refused to allow video cameras or recording equipment to the proceedings. As a result, Totenberg’s report only involved quotes of the former justice’s words as transcribed by Totenberg.

Unfortunately, many of the sections of O'Connor's speech that Totenberg shared with her listeners – which are so inflammatory that they are now making the rounds throughout the Internet at all the usual suspects – were quite negative towards Republicans. For example, O’Connor supposedly had bad things to say about Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), even though she didn’t actually say his name. O’Connor had similar negative remarks that, according to Totenberg, were obviously directed at Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) even though O’Connor didn’t say his name either.

Certainly, the problem with this report is that the listener has no idea of the context of the statements made by O’Connor, or what else might have been said during this speech. After all, the former justice might have had some positive things to say about Republicans and, dare I say it, negative things about Democrats that Totenberg chose to not share with her listeners. As a result, unless someone can provide a full transcript of these proceedings, we may never know what was truly said by the former justice.

What follows is a rush transcript courtesy of Raw Story as well as an audio clip from NPR.

Nina Totenberg: In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O’Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O’Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it “really, really angry.” But, she continued, if we don’t make them mad some of the time we probably aren’t doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness, she said, is premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts. The nation’s founders wrote repeatedly, she said, that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government those rights and privileges would amount to nothing. But, said O’Connor, as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence, people do.

And then she took aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay. She didn’t name him, but she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when DeLay took out after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayer and the Terri Schiavo case. This, said O’Connor, was after the federal courts had applied Congress’ onetime only statute about Schiavo as it was written. Not, said O’Connor, as the congressman might have wished it were written. This response to this flagrant display of judicial restraint, said O’Connor, her voice dripping with sarcasm, was that the congressman blasted the courts.

It gets worse, she said, noting that death threats against judges are increasing. It doesn’t help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and decisions that the senator disagrees with. She didn’t name him, but it was Texas senator John Cornyn who made that statement, after a Georgia judge was murdered in the courtroom and the family of a federal judge in Illinois murdered in the judge’s home. O’Connor observed that there have been a lot of suggestions lately for so-called judicial reforms, recommendations for the massive impeachment of judges, stripping the courts of jurisdiction and cutting judicial budgets to punish offending judges. Any of these might be debatable, she said, as long as they are not retaliation for decisions that political leaders disagree with.

I, said O’Connor, am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning. Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

Audio Link

Noel Sheppard's picture