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Endowments Hruska Institute Ginsburg: Foreign rulings instructive

Ginsburg: Foreign rulings instructive

Published Friday
April 7, 2006


United States Supreme Court Justice GinsburgLINCOLN - To a round of applause, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Friday that it would be "a bad idea" to allow Congress to overturn U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

The applause came from an appreciative audience at the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, where more than 500 students, local judges, lawyers and administrators listened to her 40 minute lecture on the value of an independent judiciary.

Ginsburg, 73, was guest lecturer for the Roman L. Hruska Institute for the Administration of Justice at the law college. She is the third Supreme Court justice to give the institute's annual lecture.

She was appointed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. With the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor, Ginsburg is the lone woman on the high court.

Ginsburg said the independence of the U.S. judiciary has survived past attempts to exert legislative control but is once again being challenged.

"In some political circles," Ginsburg said, "it is fashionable to criticize and even threaten federal judges who decide cases without regard to what the home crowd wants."

She cited various proposals that, if successful, would restrict the independence of federal judges.

Congressional leaders, Ginsburg said, have suggested that Congress hold the judiciary accountable for unpopular decisions. The House Judiciary Committee considered creating an office of inspector general for the judiciary to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct.

Ginsburg said she was troubled by another congressional proposal to keep federal courts from referring to foreign legal decisions. She said justices examine foreign legal cases but do not consider them binding.

Another troubling proposal, she said, would allow a two thirds vote of Congress to overturn a judicial decision.

She said the legislative branch's ultimate weapon against judges was impeachment.

"History bears out that Congress is unlikely to employ the nuclear weapon impeachment against judges who decide cases in a way that the home crowd does not want," Ginsburg said.

In 217 years, the House of Representatives has impeached 13 judges, all for illegal behavior, not for making unpopular decisions,

Another serious threat, she said, is the "political hazing" of Supreme Court nominees during the confirmation process.

She said attempts to uncover hidden ideological agendas, rather than examine qualifications, started with Clinton nominees and have continued with nominees of President Bush.

Ginsburg's topic resonated with the law students.

"It was very exciting hearing from a sitting Supreme Court justice," said first year law student Kristin Farwell of Kearney. "The entire theme made it a very remarkable address."

Christie Higgins, a law student from Grand Island, was impressed that Ginsburg made her points about judicial independence by giving historical examples of restrictions in other countries such as Russia, Ecuador and Uganda.

Earlier in the day, Ginsburg answered questions of a mass media law class during a 45 minute appearance at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

She told the journalism students that her own confirmation process in 1993 was "dull" by today's standards.

"No one was trying to trip me up," she said.

Reprinted with permission from the Omaha World Herald.

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