A Case of a “Cowgirl” Crying Wolf?

Issue Date: 
April 9, 2007

Hellman lecture examines O’Connor’s views on threats to judicial independence

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has cited three major threats to judicial independence: acts or threats of violence against federal judges, proposals to impeach federal judges, and political moves to strip them of jurisdiction over some classes of cases.

“Unfortunately, though, in describing the threats to judicial independence, [O’Connor] presented us a picture that in some respects is overstated and in others incomplete,” Pitt law professor Arthur Hellman said in a March 27 lecture. “First, she painted with too broad a brush in identifying what I would call the external threats. Second, she has not adequately emphasized what I would call the internal aspects. And, finally, she hasn’t said anything about the confirmation process for federal judges, which, in my view, poses a threat.”

Hellman’s lecture in 2501 Posvar Hall marked his formal installation as holder of the Sally Ann Smenko Endowed Chair in Pitt’s School of Law. The lecture was titled “Justice O’Connor and ‘The Threat to Judicial Independence’: The Cowgirl Who Cried Wolf?”

Hellman took the title from O’Connor’s description of herself in retirement as “just an unemployed cowgirl.”