Linda Greenhouse | What Sandra Day O’Connor Stood For on the Supreme Court – The New York Times

Ms. Greenhouse, a contributing Opinion writer, covered the Supreme Court for The Times from 1978 to 2008.

“This has been a month of sad remembrances — the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, of course, and the anniversary last Saturday of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. An additional, less noted anniversary is an occasion not for sorrow but for wonder. Forty years ago this Saturday, on Sept. 25, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor took her seat on the Supreme Court.

I use the word “wonder” because of how what once seemed remarkable is today a commonplace; of the 12 justices to join the court in the ensuing decades, four have been women, including three of the last five. Most people in the United States today were not yet born on that early fall afternoon when Sandra O’Connor took the oath of office and ended 191 years of an all-male Supreme Court.

The overflowing audience included President Ronald Reagan, whose nomination of a little-known judge on Arizona’s intermediate appellate court fulfilled a campaign promise — regarded by some as impetuous — to name the first woman to the court. For those of us who were old enough in 1981 to recognize the significance of the breakthrough, the sight of Justice O’Connor on a bench that included aging nominees of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson was electrifying.”

Lovely tribute. But many comments criticized it, as did, the most recommended one.

Daniel Fleisher
Baltimore7h ago

A respectful and moving tribute to Justice O’Connor. But there is a dark cloud over all of it. Ms. Greenhouse’s admiration is based largely on Justice O’Connor’s concern for the practical effects of her jurisprudence. But O’Connor ignored practical effects–as well as law–in deciding perhaps the most consequential case during her tenure: Bush v. Gore. In this infamous, unprincipled decision, O’Connor acted simply as a partisan– stopping the vote count in order to lift into power her preferred candidate. In her tribute, Ms. Greenhouse chose to omit this decision, despite the enormity of its corruption and consequence. Presumably, she omitted it because it was a poor fit with the tribute she was fashioning. But, for those of us who remember the Supreme Court’s soon-to-be disastrous intervention in the 2000 presidential election, Ms. Greenhouse’s omission is fatal.

9 Replies338 Recommended

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