January 29, 2010
Contact: Matthew Dunlap

National Association of Secretaries of State Honors Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award

WASHINGTON, DC—In the first full day of its winter meetings today, the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) honored former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor with the Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award for acts of political courage. O’Connor was recognized for her strong defense of judicial independence at the state and federal level.

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 noted that “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.” NASS honored her work as an advocate for a judicial system beleaguered with efforts to compromise the authority of judicial review that brings balance to the independent institutions of government. “In recent years, the judiciary has been subject to attacks that threaten the independence of the courts,” she said. “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.”

Justice O’Connor was nominated for the award by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who extolled her work in his nomination. “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.”

Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, President-Elect of NASS, was on hand for the ceremony and praised Justice O’Connor’s work. Dunlap is also a member of the Russian-American Rule of Law Consortium Steering Committee, working internationally to further judicial independence as a strong branch of government. “Her work with young people is truly amazing,” said Dunlap. “She’s right on with the concept that better educating people about the importance of independent and co-equal branches of government only enhances our opportunities as citizens to enjoy the fruits of liberty.”

For more information about Justice O’Connor’s work in outreach to young people about the importance of the law, visit the web at To learn more about NASS and the Margaret Chase Smith American Democracy Award, visit