Reviews | What Sandra Day O'Connor defended at the Supreme Court

“At a time when we see the violent consequences of government accession to religious authority around the world, Americans may consider t...


“At a time when we see the violent consequences of government accession to religious authority around the world, Americans may consider themselves lucky,” she wrote in her separate concurring opinion in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union. She continued, “So those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for a system that has served others so poorly? “

In this case and many others in the second half of her tenure, Justice O’Connor held the balance of power over what some have called the O’Connor Tribunal. The court quickly shifted to the right with the arrival of his successor, Samuel Alito. Today’s court would be barely recognizable to the judges whose company Sandra O’Connor joined in 1981.

This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect not only on what happened 40 years ago, but on what happened over the intervening decades to bring us to a time when legal abortion could be pushed out of the way. second most populous state in the country without the Supreme Court lifting a finger.

After Justice O’Connor retired from court and mine from the Supreme Court beaten at The Times, we saw each other with some regularity. We didn’t really meet as friends, but rather as veterans of decades of shared experiences, even though she as a participant and I as an observer. The day before election day in 2008, we shared the stage at an event where I had been invited to be his interlocutor. Before the proceedings began, I mentioned that I had taken training to become an electoral judge at the polling stations, and she told me that she had mailed her ballot to Arizona, her official home. of retirement. I was extremely curious as to whether she voted for Barack Obama or for the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain from Arizona.

Of course, I had no way of asking the question directly, so I tried an oblique approach. – I suppose you know Senator McCain fairly well, I ventured. His response was instantaneous and almost fierce. “I don’t,” she said. “I met him, but I don’t know him. He’s a newcomer to Arizona. (Unlike Barry Goldwater, who was born in Arizona Territory before becoming a state, John McCain moved to Arizona after his release from the Navy in 1981.)

No one who had just voted for a man for the presidency would describe him in such demeaning terms. As she surely intended, without acknowledging my unasked question, she had told me exactly what I wanted to know.

Forty years ago, it was Sandra O’Connor who was a newcomer. Then, for a while, she embraced the Supreme Court. If we can’t find that time, at least on this anniversary, we can remember it.

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