Dec 4, 2023

Remembering Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Transcript

Remembering Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsSandra Day O'ConnerRemembering Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Transcript

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, has died. She was 93. Read the transcript here.

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Sandra Day O’Connor (00:00):

I wanted, since I was the first, not to be the last. And I wanted to do the job well so it would provide encouragement for women to serve in the future.

Speaker 2 (00:12):

Sandra Day O’Connor broke the gender barrier at the US Supreme Court. And ultimately became a critical vote on abortion rights, affirmative action, and even the election of a president. It was a long journey from the family cattle ranch in southeastern Arizona. She recalled those early years in a NewsHour interview in 2002.

Sandra Day O’Connor (00:34):

It gives a person a little confidence, a little bit of self-reliance because you know you have to solve the problems yourself. You can’t always turn to other people to do them. A belief in independence.

Speaker 2 (00:51):

The young Sandra Day earned degrees at Stanford University and its law school, where she was a classmate of future Chief Justice William Rehnquist. She married another law grad, John O’Connor, and tried for a job practicing law, but it was the 1950s and more than 40 firms turned her down. Eventually, after having children, she turned to politics serving in the state Senate and became a judge for Arizona State Court of Appeals.

Then in 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to the US Supreme Court.

Speaker 3 (01:28):

…truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

Sandra Day O’Connor (01:30):

I do so swear.

Speaker 2 (01:33):

She described herself as a judicial conservative and won unanimous Senate confirmation. But after joining the court, she came to be regarded as more moderate and a swing vote.

Sandra Day O’Connor (01:46):

Some of the decisions are made by drawing very fine lines and reasonable people can disagree on where those lines should be drawn. I’ve been there and I know how challenging it is. It is not surprising at all that some cases are decided by drawing fine lines with five people here and four people on the other side.

Speaker 2 (02:10):

In 1992, Justice O’Connor was the critical fifth vote against overturning the landmark Roe versus Wade decision that legalized abortion. Later, she joined a one vote majority in striking down state limits on so-called partial birth abortions. In 2003, she wrote the majority opinion upholding the use of race in deciding college admissions.

And she voted with a five to four majority in Bush v. Gore, the case that ultimately settled the bitterly disputed 2000 presidential election. In later years, O’Connor acknowledged criticism that she lacked a clear judicial philosophy, but she defended her case-by-case approach.

Sandra Day O’Connor (02:57):

You have to answer the question, like it or not. And the questions deserve a valid legal response, even if the response isn’t one that will be easily understood. You have an obligation as a member of the court to do what you are bound to do under federal law, even if it isn’t an attractive resolution from a public standpoint.

Speaker 2 (03:20):

She was the lone woman on the high court for 12 years until President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993. O’Connor retired from the court in 2006, citing her husband’s health, but continued hearing cases in the US courts of appeals. And she made time to visit schools, actively promoting the importance of civics education.

Sandra Day O’Connor (03:46):

I wanted to teach young people in America how they can be part of the governmental structure and help decide what problems to tackle and how to solve them.

Speaker 2 (03:58):

The retired justice devoted much of her attention to caring for her husband, John, who suffered from Alzheimer’s and who died in 2009. That same year, O’Connor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. At the ceremony, President Obama said she forged a new trail and built a bridge behind her for all young women to follow. O’Connor reflected on it all in an interview with the NewsHour in 2009.

Sandra Day O’Connor (04:31):

I was asked in my Senate confirmation hearing about how I’d like to be remembered. I called it the tombstone question, and I said, I hope the tombstone might read, “Here lies a good judge.”

Speaker 2 (04:45):

At the age of 88, the retired justice announced she had formally withdrawn from public life. She wrote to the high court that she had beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s. Sandra Day O’Connor lived out her final years in Arizona.

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