Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Tuesday that a Republican proposal in Congress to set up a watchdog over the federal courts is a “really scary idea.”
Ginsburg told a gathering of the American Bar Association that lawyers should stick up for judges when they are criticized by congressional leaders.
“My sense now is that the judiciary is under assault in a way that I haven’t seen before,” she said.
As an example, she mentioned proposals by senior Republicans who want an inspector general to police judges’ acceptance of free trips or their possible financial interests with groups that could appear before them.
“It sounds to me very much like the Soviet Union was …. That’s a really scary idea,” said Ginsburg, who was put on the court by President Clinton and is one of its liberal members.
Ginsburg said her confirmation hearings in 1993, and those the following year for Justice Stephen Breyer, were long but friendly. “That bipartisan spirit has broken down,” she said.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said last week that the judiciary wasn’t doing enough policing of itself. His plan would create an inspector general to oversee federal courts including the Supreme Court. The inspector general would be directed to report any judicial misconduct to the Justice Department.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., has proposed a separate plan to cover lower federal courts only.
Ginsburg said her concerns were about the legislative branch setting up a so-called guardian for the judicial branch. She also said there have been discussions in Congress about limiting the scope of courts.
American Bar Association President Michael Greco asked Ginsburg what lawyers could do. She said attorneys can speak up and “say these efforts are wrong.” Judges, she said, cannot lobby on their own behalf.
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© 2006 The Associated Press