Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said this week that GOP proposals to increase oversight of sitting judges are “really scary” and “very much like” something the Soviet Union would have done. Echoing comments retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor made recently, Ginsburg said her “sense” is that the federal judiciary is now “under assault in a way that I haven’t seen before.”
Ginsburg’s concerns seem to be focused on legislation introduced last month by Sen. Charles Grassley and House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner. Their plan would create an Office of Inspector General for the Judicial Branch that would, among other things, “conduct investigations of possible misconduct of judges in the judicial branch.”
Sensenbrenner says the inspector general would be focused on financial issues and wouldn’t be authorized to meddle in judges’ decision making. The legislation, he says, is needed to “help restore some of this trust with the public that has been damaged by the actions of some Federal judges who have carelessly ignored the ethical guidelines established.”
Of course, there are other ideas that might do more to restore public trust in the judiciary: Republican presidents like George W. Bush could stop nominating judges with conflict-of-interest problems, Republican politicians like John Cornyn and Tom DeLay could tone down their vitriolic, anti-judge rhetoric, and Republican justices like Antonin Scalia could start taking the issue of recusal seriously.
That said, we don’t have any doubt that Ginsburg’s comments will draw fire; there are rules against using the Soviets or the Nazis as points of comparison in political dialogue, even when the analogies are entirely apt.