Making Democracy Work

Constitution Day September 17, 2008

Safeguarding Freedom: Is There an Assault on the Independent Judiciary?

An Essay by Sandra Day O'Conner

Click this link to read an essay by Sandra Day O'Conner, Associate Justice (retired) of the Supreme Court of the United States: A Fair, Impartial and Independent Judiciary
The essay was published by the League of Women Voters of the United States in The National Voter, February 2008, pp. 7-9.

The Constitution Day Event

Constitution Day flyer in PDF format

The Constitution Day forum "Safeguarding Freedom: "Is There an Assault on the Independent Judiciary?" will be held Wednesday, September 17, 2008, 7:00 p.m. The location is the Bell Courtroom at the University of Oklahoma Law Center, Norman. Presenters include Ambassador Edward Perkins, William J. Crowe Chair and Executive Director of the International Programs Center at the University of Oklahoma; Senior United States District Judge Lee West; Andrew Tevington, Chief Counsel to former Governor Henry Bellmon and presently Deputy Director of the Public Utilities Division of the Corporation Commission; and Arnold Hamilton, editor of the Oklahoma Observer and former editor of the Dallas Morning News. The moderator will be Randy Coyne, Frank Elkouri and Edna Asper Elkouri Professor of Law and Senior Editor of the Amicus Journal.

A current action which raises the question about an assault on the Constitution is the proposal of new rules on FBI investigations of national security cases. The new rules, known as Attorney General Guidelines, would let agents open preliminary terrorism investigations after mining public records and intelligence to build a profile of traits that, taken together, were deemed suspicious. Among factors that could make someone subject to an investigation is travel to regions of the world known for terrorist activity, access to weapons or military training, along with the person's race or ethnicity. Attorney General Mukasey repeatedly has said that investigations will not be opened solely on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or other traits that could amount to unconstitutional profiling. How would these rules be enforced and how will they play out?

Previous actions which challenge constitutional rights are the suspension of habeas corpus; the law which allows the President to declare any U.S. citizen an enemy combatant and suspends that person's right to challenge the declaration; and government surveillance of citizens' communications among others.

Two articles in the August 20, 2008, Oklahoma Gazette point out differences in views of constitutional interpretation: Point: Remember the 10th by Jason Reese and Counterpoint: Save the Supreme Court by Robin Meyers. Jason Reese, an OKC attorney, believes the courts are forcing unwanted fundamental changes on the American people and that we need more justices of the Supreme Court in the mold of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Robin Meyers, minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in OKC, says "neo-cons and the Christian right have been obsessed with reshaping the American judiciary" in order to impose a theocracy with the ultimate prize being the Supreme Court.

Presenters at the Constitution Day forum will address some of these issues.

The program will be preceded by a reception at 6:00 p.m. in the Sneed Lounge in the Law Center. The public is invited to both the forum and the reception.

Sponsors who have provided funding for the event are the League of Women Voters Education Fund and the Program on Constitutional and Legal Policy of the Open Society Institute, the University of Oklahoma College of Law, the University of Oklahoma Honors College, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and Common Cause Oklahoma.

Additional sponsors are the League of Women Voters of Norman, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Peace House, the Peace Education Institute, the Unitarian University Community Church, the Norman Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the Interfaith Alliance, Oklahoma City Branch of the NAACP, and the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

What is Constitution Day?

The history of Constitution Day is explained in the following excerpt from "News from the Library of Congress," September 5, 2007.

Established by Congress in 2004, Constitution Day is an American federal holiday that recognizes the ratification of the United States Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention. Introduced by West Virginian Senator Robert Byrd, the legislation expands the Sept. 17 celebration of Citizenship Day, which President Harry Truman established in 1952 to recognize everyone who had become a U.S. citizen during the previous year. In combining the observances, the act mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide programming on the history of the American Constitution on that day.

Photos of the event

Click here to see photos by Helen Duchon published online of the September 17, 2008 Constitution Day event.