Courts face bullying and intimidation by pols and partisans, say two retired state justices

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Two retired state justices are condemning an “atmosphere of bullying” that threatens the independence of the nation’s courts.

Writing for the Washington Post, retired chief justices Ruth McGregor of Arizona and Randall Shepard of Indiana cite some examples.

In Oklahoma, the supreme court dissolved its stay of execution for Clayton Lockett after the governor said she would disregard the court’s ruling and a legislator introduced a resolution to impeach the five justices who voted for the stay. (The governor had claimed the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals had jurisdiction, rather than the Oklahoma Supreme Court.)

The state supreme court had granted the stay to consider Lockett’s quest for information about his execution drugs. Lockett kicked and grimaced during the execution, and died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the procedure began.

In Missouri, lawmakers “vigorously debated” a bill that would have allowed lawsuits against judges and other state officials for enforcing federal gun laws. In Kansas, lawmakers retaliated for state supreme court decisions by reducing the court’s authority over the judiciary budget, say McGregor and Shepard.

“The Oklahoma case is bad enough,” the op-ed says. “But in state capitals across the nation, there are disturbing efforts by partisans, politicians and special interests to intimidate our courts.”

McGregor and Shepard also condemn special-interest spending in state judicial elections. “These kinds of big-money judicial elections threaten to turn judges into politicians in black robes,” they write.

The retired justices are board members of Justice at Stake.

Related coverage:

New York Times: “Execution Case Roils Oklahoma Courts”

The Week: “Oklahoma just neutered its state Supreme Court”

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