Fordham Law

Two Supreme Court Justices Speak at Fordham Law

April 08, 2008

Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Stephen G. Breyer visited Fordham Law on April 8 as part of a day-long conference on “Enhancing Judicial Independence, Accountability, and Selection for the State Court Judiciary: A Program for Reform.”

Former Law School Dean John Feerick introduced the Justices, who spoke about the importance of judicial independence, impartiality, unbiased selection procedures, accountability, and education of the public on the proper role of the judiciary.

Justice O’Connor spoke passionately about the need for an independent judiciary. “This has been a bedrock principle of our court system, and we’re losing it,” she said. She spoke about the conflict that partisan elections present in appointing fair and impartial judges in some state court systems.

O’Connor decried the practice of lawyers making financial contributions to a judge’s campaign in the hopes that the judge, if elected, will favor that lawyer at future proceedings. “You’re putting cash in the courtrooms, and that’s wrong,” Justice O’Connor said.

Justice Breyer spoke about the importance of the state legislature as the source of most of the country’s laws and the value of state judges in protecting and interpreting these laws.

“People forget about state judges,” Justice Breyer said, recommending “teaching the younger generation” about the basics of the judicial system so they have informed opinions.

After their opening remarks, Justices O’Connor and Breyer visited two classes and spoke more generally about the procedures of the Supreme Court. They concluded by taking questions from Fordham Law students.

“It is an honor to have two Supreme Court Justices visit Fordham Law today, and we are grateful to Justices O’Connor and Breyer for their commitment to the important issue of judicial independence and accountability,” said William Michael Treanor, Dean and Paul Fuller Chair of Law.

The conference continued throughout the afternoon with panels discussing a wide range of topics including judicial performance review and strategies for educating the legislature and public on judicial review. Legal experts from law schools, the media, and law firms participated in the panels.

The conference was sponsored by the following: the Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown University Law Center, the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham Law, the William H. Rehnquist Center at the University of Arizona College of Law, the American Judicature Society, the New York State Bar Association, the New York City Bar Association, the New York County Lawyers Association, the Dwight D. Opperman Institute of Judicial Administration at NYU School of Law, the Fund for Modern Courts, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Judicial Independence, National Center for State Courts.

Justice O'Connor's Project, established shortly after her retirement from the United States Supreme Court, has held a number of conferences throughout the country since its formation in 2006; this is the sixth conference in the series.