The esteemed Chancellor of the College of William & Mary made her first trip to the Roanoke Valley today, picking up an honorary doctorate from Roanoke College and giving a rousing Constitution Day speech. As stately, funny, and fearless as ever, Justice O’Connor garnered four standing ovations while speaking on a holiday that, by her own admission, falls somewhere in the national conscious between Groundhog Day and Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day.

Part of Justice O’Connor’s mission was to fix that. But more on that later.

The Justice started off her speech by reiterating some points that she’s been making recently about the importance of an independent judiciary and the danger of elected judges. If only there were a recent SCOTUS decision to help her make that point . . .

Justice O’Connor did get to Caperton eventually, but she set the stage by explaining that the majority of state court judges in our country are popularly elected–a concept that is foreign to much of the world, and which she characterized as unfortunate and dangerous. Justice O’Connor stressed the need for judges to be free to apply the law without prejudice, and without regard to popularity or fear of retaliation.

By way of example, she offered Loving v. Virginia, and explained that, when the Lovings were married, 96% of the white population favored anti-miscegenation statutes. That number was lower by the time the case made it to the Supreme Court, but at the time of of the decision, 72% of Southern whites still favored such laws–which, as it turns out, violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. She challenged the audience to imagine the popular pressure to uphold those laws. An elected justice who sought to overturn them would only be replaced by someone more in line with the popular consensus.Continue Reading “I Never Aspired To Be on the Court”: Justice O’Connor Speaks at Roanoke College