On Sunday, readers of the Washington Post were treated to an opinion piece co-authored by Arizona’s own Ruth McGregor, a retired Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court.
Titled “Keep politics out of the courthouse,” the essay was co-written by Randall Shepard, a fellow retired justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.
The news hook for their salvo against improper political influence was a recent awful occurrence in Oklahoma. As they describe it:
“The chaos surrounding the execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett was not just a wake-up call on capital punishment and how it is administered. The final hours also saw political efforts to bully and weaken Oklahoma’s courts. Similar battles are playing out around the country, threatening the ability of our courts to be fair and impartial.”
“When Lockett’s attorneys filed a lawsuit seeking information about the drug mixture that ultimately failed, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued a stay to grant more time for review. But the governor announced that she would disregard the court’s ruling. A legislator introduced a resolution to impeach the five justices who had voted for the stay, alleging ‘a willful neglect of duty and incompetence.’ The Supreme Court ultimately dissolved its stay and allowed Lockett’s execution to proceed.”
Did you get that? The governor looked at a court-issued stay and said, “Nope. Not gonna do it.”
(You may recall reading that Lockett’s subsequent execution went terribly wrong.)
We cannot get into the Oklahoma justices’ heads. Perhaps they dissolved their own stay to avoid a continued head-to-head with the governor. Or perhaps they feared the impeachment resolution. But whatever their thinking, the ultimate decision did more harm to the independent judiciary than almost anything else, as it merely encouraged the further bullying of courts.
Justice McGregor and her co-author are board members of Justice at Stake, “a nonpartisan network working to keep courts fair and impartial.” You really should read their op-ed all the way to the end. Start here.
Reading the well-drafted opinion piece, I was reminded of an editor’s column I wrote back in 2009. In it, I commended to the consideration of the new U.S. President a jurist worthy of the United States Supreme Court. To my knowledge, President Obama never followed up and contacted Ruth McGregor (and he has not contacted me). But I thought you might enjoy what may be the one and only Arizona Attorney column that was also an open letter to the POTUS.
My SCOTUS recommendation opened “Dear President Obama.” Keep reading here.
In the meantime, the retired justices suggest, if we needed more evidence of the real-life fallout that may come from the politicization of courts, an Oklahoma lethal injection provides it.
Below is an image of my 2009 column.Follow @azatty