Washington, D.C. –– Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie on Friday, Jan. 29 presented former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor with the Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award during the National Association of Secretaries of State (“NASS”) winter meeting in Washington, D.C.
Ritchie, who nominated O’Connor for the honor, was on hand to present the national award to the former justice who is recognized by NASS for her strong defense of judicial independence at the state and federal level.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s first woman nominee, Sandra Day O’Connor, was presented the American Democracy Award on Friday, Jan. 29 by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.
“I am honored to present this prestigious award to such an distinguished public servant,” Ritchie said. “Throughout a career in public service culminating in a quarter century on the nation’s highest court, Justice O’Connor demonstrated political courage by defending and promoting the necessity of an independent judiciary. I applaud her ongoing efforts to educate the American public about the importance of a judicial branch free from political pressure. Justice should never be sacrificed for politics.”
NASS established the Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award in tribute to the former U.S. Senator from Maine, who jeopardized her career by speaking out against the red-baiting tactics of Senator Joseph P. McCarthy. Recipients of the award are recognized for similar acts of political courage, uncommon character, and selfless action in the realm of public service.
In accepting the award, Justice O’Connor said,
“Margaret Chase Smith was a role model for me; I thought she was just superb. She was a strong proponent of an independent judiciary, and also of education, both of which are near and dear to me.”
“In recent years, the judiciary has been subject to attacks that threaten the independence of the courts. These tend to generate more heat than light, with charges about ‘activist judges’ further escalating the threat to judicial independence. Where judges are elected, campaigns that lead up to Election Day breed distrust and do more to distort facts and scare voters then they do to inform. Oddly, this has the perverse effect of creating more desire to elect judges, because if you think the system isn’t fair and impartial, you want to vote for a judge who will be unfair in your favor.”
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (left) nominated former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for an American Democracy Award. He presented the award on Friday night in Washington, D.C.
When nominating Justice O’Connor for the NASS award, Ritchie wrote, “In our current climate of destructive partisanship and the increasing number of threats directed at judges, Justice O’Connor’s work in establishing the Our Courts program in conjunction with Georgetown Law is a commendable effort to educate Americans about the importance of an independent judiciary and the need to protect its autonomy,” he said. “For her tireless work to protect our nation’s system of justice, I believe there is no better recipient for this prestigious national award.”
For more information about Justice O’Connor’s work in outreach to young people about the importance of the law, visit www.ourcourts.org . To learn more about NASS and the Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award, visit http://nass.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=34&Itemid=86.