Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Education about judicial branch is key, O’Connor says

Accepting an award from a University of Denver-based institute aimed at reforming America’s court systems, retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor praised the group’s mission and said judges are under more scrutiny today than they’ve ever been.

O’Connor spent Oct. 10 on the DU campus at the invitation of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), a group aimed at improving the legal system and led by former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis. She received the Transparent Courthouse Award, which recognizes an individual or organization that works to improve the United States legal system.

O’Connor spoke to a dinner crowd that included school officials and judicial leaders from around the country. She hailed the institute’s work as critical and said the effectiveness of the nation’s courts depends on judicial independence from politics.

“In my time, I’ve never seen so much criticism of judges as I’ve seen in recent years,” she said. “It’s hard to be a judge.”

O’Connor criticized moves in many states to term-limit judges or to set them up for civil or even criminal penalties if others later disagree with their rulings. But she said many frustrations stem from problems in the courts and the difficulty Americans have in accessing and understanding their court systems.

“These are frightening proposals,” she said. “We really have to go to work on what the problems are.’

O’Connor said that while groups such as the IAALS dissect the courts and look for better, more transparent and more cost effective ways of dispensing justice, Americans need to be better educated about the role of the judicial branch of the value of judicial independence.

“The key, it seems to me, lies in education,” she said. “Civics education must be a requirement.”

Read about O’Connor speaking to law students.

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