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Balance rights, security rules, O’Connor says

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NEW YORK — Describing herself as "still tearful" after viewing the World Trade Center site, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor told a law school audience in Manhattan on Friday that as part of the country's response to terrorism, "we're likely to experience more restrictions on our personal freedom than has ever been the case in our country."

Lawyers have a special duty to work to maintain the rule of law in the face of terrorism, she said, adding in a quotation from Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister: "Where law ends, tyranny begins."

O'Connor, who was on an official visit to India when the terrorist attacks occurred Sept. 11, was the first Supreme Court justice to speak publicly about the event and its possible legal consequences. She was the main speaker at the groundbreaking for a new law school building at New York University in Greenwich Village.

Her brief remarks emphasized the need to proceed with care in the aftermath of a national trauma that she said "will cause us to re-examine some of our laws pertaining to criminal surveillance, wiretapping, immigration and so on." Lawyers would play an important role in striking the right balance, she said, adding, "Lawyers and academics will help define how to maintain a fair and a just society with a strong rule of law at a time when many are more concerned with safety and a measure of vengeance."

O'Connor did not offer an analysis of any particular proposal, instead observing that "no single response is appropriate for every situation." Referring to the prospect that military deployments overseas rather than domestic prosecutions will be a principal means of bringing terrorists to justice, she said: "It is possible, if not likely, that we will rely more on international rules of war than on our cherished constitutional standards for criminal prosecutions in responding to threats to our national security."

"We must take the route that vindicates the rule of law to the best of our abilities, pursuing individual justice to the extent practicable and nurturing more responsible nation-states around the globe," O'Connor said.