Robert McConnell oral history

March 17, 2015

Robert McConnell oral history
ITEM DETAILS
Type: Interview
Author: Sandra Day O'Connor Institute
Occasion: O'Connor Institute Oral History Project
Notes: In 1981, Robert McConnell was Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. In that position, he guided Justice O'Connor through the confirmation process for her appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Link to original not currently available.

Transcript

Note: At the time this interview was conducted, the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute was known as "O'Connor House." The organization's name was changed in 2015.

Bob McConnell
I am Bob McConnell. This is March 17, 2015. St. Patrick's Day.

O'Connor House
So tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in the nation's capital.

Bob McConnell
Okay, I went to Arizona State University undergraduate, law school. When I finished law school, I went to work in Washington DC for John Rhodes as his legislative assistant. I came back in, I was in the first graduating class of the law school, '70, spent three years in Washington, came back, started practicing law. Coincidentally, while I was with John Rhodes, there was a meeting. I don't recall the subject matter that was, it would take place in Phoenix and he could not come and so I came. It was with people from the Arizona State Legislature. Sandra O'Connor was in that meeting, we probably met across the table, that would have been, you know, a group of people. When I came back and I practiced law in Arizona, there was, I had a motion in a case when she was on the Superior Court, that was shifted over to her for me to argue the motion. So I saw her a second time. Again, not socially.

Then went back to Washington when, early, February of the Reagan administration, to be Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs.

O'Connor House
So, that would have been 1980?

Bob McConnell
81. February of '81.

O'Connor House
Alright, so now fast forward. How did you next interact with Sandra Day O'Connor?

Bob McConnell
Well, the story really is that when, when Ronald Reagan was, was running for president, he had said, I don't know how many people took him seriously, but he said that if he gets a chance he would nominate a woman to the Supreme Court.

When I got to the Justice Department, I hadn't been there very long and I was aware there was a list of names of potential nominees. And different people in the department were being given assignments to read cases of judges or read papers that people had written that were on that list. I wasn't given, I was given one or two. Nobody was given exclusively a person, but I wasn't given anything to do with Senator O'Connor, although I knew she was on the list.

Ken Starr, Ken Olson, I think Rudy Giuliani were among the people that were reading, things of potential people that were on the list. Over time, the list started getting shorter. And I knew her name was still on the list, but because, I guess because I was from Arizona, nobody was having me involved with that at all. And then, every morning in, in the first term of the Reagan administration, William French Smith, the Attorney General, and about 10 of us met every morning. And after a morning meeting, I bet, I don't know, May maybe, maybe June. He asked me to come in the office after the meeting and he said that Hank Habicht, who was one of his special assistants, would be coming down to me. And it was going to be in, everything that he said to me and that he and, that Hank and I did was completely confidential. I didn't know what that was about.

So a little later in the morning, Hank Habicht came down and said that he had been assigned to go to Arizona to do some further background check on Sandra O'Connor. And the Attorney General wanted him to talk to me about whether I knew if there were certain people that, one, he could talk to, and two, could keep a secret. It can be totally confidential. And I said "Yeah, I can think of several people." And he said, "Would you call them and tell them that somebody is coming, and that the entire conversation and the guy meeting with them is confidential." So I called Frank Riley of Riley Carlock and Austin. Judge Robert Broomfield. And Marshall Humphrey, former president of the Arizona Senate. And I told them that somebody was coming out to talk to them, that I would appreciate if they would meet with them, and that I had to have their word that my call and what took place in those meetings would be confidential. And Hank went to Arizona and met with them, talked to them about, and obviously got glowing reports.

And so then I didn't hear anything more. I, at that point I didn't know she was, I didn't know who else was on the list at that point. My role in reading opinions had long since stopped, I was doing other things. So, but I knew it was, you know, she was in the, in the finals. And then whatever day it was, we saw a clip the other day of the President's announcement. Whatever day that was, I got a call, I was at my desk in the Justice Department, and my assistant said that the Attorney General was on the phone, calling from the White House. And I answered the phone, he says, "Bob, just a minute, turn on your TV and I will see you at lunch." And I turned on the TV to see the President announce that Sandra would be his nominee.

Stepping back, an interesting little sidelight to this is when I first went to the Department of Justice. I was briefed by my career deputy kind of historical information, how the office worked, all that sort of thing. Kind of a data dump that the new boss would benefit from. And he said in that, either that first day or a day after, very early, he told me, he said, "We, the Office of Legislative Affairs, handle the confirmations of all federal judges. Except, when it comes to a Supreme Court nominee, the White House always takes it away from us. We do all the research, we do all the work, but they take it away from us. They take her to her courtesy calls. They do the moot courting. That's just the way it is. And if you want it any different you better talk to the Attorney General." And I did. I told him just what Mike Nolan the career deputy had told me. And I said, "I would really like that not to happen." And Bill Smith was not, never played his cards, never showed his card. He just listened to me, that's, I didn't get any reaction whatsoever. Well, when he had called me and said to watch the television, he said, "I'll see you at lunch," because we had lunch every day. He came back from the White House, went to the lunch. He said, "When we're done with lunch, you and I are going to the White House."

And so we went over together and we went to Jim Baker's office. Actually, no, I think it was Max Friederdorf's office, although Jim Baker was there. Friedersdorf was the head of White House liaison. And we were, it was announced that the head of Senate congressional liaison, Powell Moore, would have the over all reporting to the White House on what's happening, but the operational handling of Justice, or Sandra O'Connor's nomination would be in the Justice Department with Bob McConnell. And I just looked at the Attorney General, he obviously had gone to the President about this without ever telling me. And so then, she had been announced, she had been there for the Rose Garden ceremony. Or for the announcement. He, she had had a secret trip to Washington that I didn't know anything about.

So then there was a, there were a little tenseness, according to the Attorney General, in that meeting, because this was July, and Jim Baker said, "Now we want her to get back here as soon as possible. And we want the hearing before the August recess. Because we want all budget matters. As soon as they get back from the August recess." Powell Moore and I talked about this one other time, just in the abstract.

And I said, "Well, I think, can't we can't wait until September?" And Baker said, "No, I want it done in July." And I said, "Well, I really think we ought to wait." I saw the Attorney General look at me, "You're arguing with the Chief of Staff." And he said, "Bob, why do you keep pushing this?" And I said, "Well, Jim, Arthur Goldberg would be the Chief Justice of the United States right now if it wasn't for an August recess." He was nominated. They went forward, started forward in the summer, and it was postponed or--there had not been a vote in the Senate when they went home for an August recess. And the press having nothing to do, found a little loose thread and started undoing it, and he was never confirmed. Baker looked at me and said, "You make sure that that hearing starts immediately after the August recess." I said, "Thank you," and went up and worked with Strom Thurmond, the chairman and Joe Biden, the ranking member, to say we'll do all our courtesy calls in July and so forth, but we'll be ready to go as soon as you come back from recess. And that's the way it went.

O'Connor House
So now the recess is over, take us, now what happened?

Bob McConnell
Well, she had come back before the recess was over. Well, what had been going on, I was not a direct part of this. There was Ken Starr--maybe Ken wasn't doing the trips--but Jonathan Rose from the Office of Legal Policy, Hank Habicht, there may have been somebody else. We were working on briefing books for her on the issues that would be brought up at the, at the hearing. There was a team of us that were working on those. And I do remember that when the day of the confirmat--of the day of her announcement, the announcement she would be the nominee, I got my career deputy and my other two deputies together and I said, "I want somebody go up to the, to the law library and I want the transcripts of the last two or three Supreme Court hearings." Mike Nolan said, "What do you want that for?" I said, "We need to go through and see, there's got to be standard questions no matter who the nominee is, on subject areas. I want to see what they are." He said, "Well I, I don't know. I'll do it if you want me to." He came back a little bit later. And he said, I take back everything I said. I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, the last person to check these out was me before the last nomination of a Supreme Court Justice." I said, "Okay." So we went through those. I mean, when you have a Supreme Court nominee, at least, prior, at that time, it's gotten a little different, a little bit different now. Senators wanted to ask about whatever the flashpoint issues were of the day, but they also wanted to talk about antitrust, various things that that will come before the Court. And so all of these things were put together in three-ring binders and were delivered to Sandra.

And I remember, the, the issue was, could we make briefing books fast enough? Because we would ship them out. And before we could get the next one ready, they would get phone calls, "Where are my next briefing books?" Or as she would say, "Where. Are my next. Briefing books?" And so we were, Burton Barr from the Arizona legislature said during those times, she was quoted as saying, "Well, there's no Miller time with Sandra O'Connor." And we all learned that that was very, very true.

And then before, I think she came back, maybe 10 days before the hearings were scheduled, recess wasn't over yet. And it, we, you know, it was a phenomenon. I mean, the news was all about Sandra O'Connor. And so, my wife and I picked her up at the airport. I don't know, I don't know if she came on an assumed name or something so that people wouldn't know where she was. And we went out to dinner and I gave her a briefing on what, how it would play out, how we would have moot court sessions and the things we would be doing in advance of the hearing and so forth. And then she was staying at the Watergate hotel.

And we started from there. And this, this doesn't affect Sandra so much. But that little difference of, an endeavor that had not been done before, of her being briefed and dealt with and prepared at the Department of Justice, had an unintended consequence of her becoming a point of great morale at the Department. I mean, everybody was excited because they knew this was going on, you know, in the building. And that the press reporters were out there at their entrance, because she would be coming in and going out of the building. And it was fun to see that, because all the different divisions who didn't have any direct involvement in it, but took a great deal of pride that this was a nominee that was being prepared at the Department of Justice. And I mean, I, I know I said this then so I believe it to be true, although I can't remember exactly my examples that made me say it...We, she, she went through moot, moot courting, moot hearings, I guess you would say instead of moot courting, preparation for the hearing. And let's just put it this way. The attorneys and executives from the Justice Department who questioned her, questioned her much better than the senators. And she was fabulous at the moot court as she was fabulous at the hearing itself.

And it was, it was, it was a great deal of fun. One of the things, though, that I may have told any number of people is they forget that it wasn't us--as an old basketball player--it wasn't a slam dunk. No, I don't know of any nominee since who has had to go through picket lines to get to courtesy calls. There were placards, "Vote No on O." I, that's the one I remember the most because you saw there were a number of, "Vote No on O." The, the demonstrations and the opposition primarily was from right-to-life groups who had been led to believe by a couple of Arizona legislators that Sandra was very pro-choice. That had not, nothing to that extent had come up in the background checks and the interviews and the, and the checking with the people that knew her and so forth. But there were people stirring that up, and they, and they were very, very concerned about it.

So we went through these picket lines and so forth. And the fear was that, as popular as having a women nominee or, being presented, that if you, if you get a senator who accepts all that and leads a charge, you can have issues. And so my biggest concern was to make sure that no s--no senator felt committed enough to what the opposition was that they would lead a charge. Because you have to have somebody lead it. If nobody's leading it, it just doesn't materialize in the Senate. And my concern, my thought was that the most likely person to do that based on the environment at the time and what I could see going on was Jesse Helms. And he wasn't on the committee, therefore had not requested a courtesy call. Because most of the courtesy calls are with the members of the committee that will see the nominee. Every once in a while you have somebody else who has a specific interest, but it's primarily the committee, members of the committee that's going to hear the, the nominee. But I requested a courtesy call with Jesse Helms and Sandra and I went in, I think Powell Moore was probably with me. And I pretty much knew at the end of that meeting, that there would be no Senate opposition to her. Not because there might not have been concerns and so forth. But, but he liked her. They liked each other. They had, I mean, you could just tell that they were enjoying visiting with each other. They had a lot of things to talk about, enjoyed the visit. I mean, Sandra's an exceptional person, fun to be around, very good wit. And always, and interested in what other people had to say. And it just, you, I knew, leaving that room that he would not, he wouldn't oppose. I mean, even if he voted against her, he would not vote, he would not act to try and defeat her. And I really felt, from that courtesy call on, that we were, she would do fine in the hearing and we would be just fine. So.

O'Connor House
So who did you take her around to see?

Bob McConnell
Well, the members of the Judiciary Committee, all of the members of the Judiciary Committee. You had Strom Thurmond as the chairman. Paul Laxalt was the next Republican. Alan Simpson, Orrin Hatch, John East, Jeremiah Denton. I'm probably missing somebody and I can't think of it right off the top of my head. On the Democratic side, the ranking member was Joe Biden. Ted Kennedy, Howard Metzenbaum, Howell Heflin, Dennis DeConcini. I think I'm missing one there, too. But those were the members of the committee. Then, I can remember non-committee members who she met with. Dan Quayle was one. Oh, I remember one of the Republicans on the committee, Mac Matthias. In fact, he was the most senior, other than Thurmond. I believe, Bob Dole as Majority Leader, I think we also had a courtesy call with him. I'm sure there were several others because a lot, a lot of senators who weren't on the committee wanted to meet her. Indeed, what I found interesting was, some of the non-committee members who asked to meet her, when we went in to see them, their wives were with them, which I never had happen before or since in dealing with a nominee.

But all the courtesy calls went well. I mean, some of them, it was a, it was a phenomenon because subsequently, I've seen other Supreme Court nominees, there's obviously a great deal of interest, but this was beyond anything I'd seen. When you had a courtesy call, the press corps knew what the schedule was, and they would be in the hall en masse. And it was, I mean, it was almost like a cartoon because when we would go in to see the senator, the door would be open and these photographers and camera, I mean, they would just come piling in almost like an avalanche. I mean, you kind of wondered, it looked like you were at a soccer game or something. And they would take pictures and so on and so forth. And then the press secretary of the senator would start pushing them out the door, and it looked like crowd control at a soccer game or something. Finally get the door closed, and then we were there for the courtesy call. I never saw anything like that with any other nominee. You would have press in the hallway, but not behave that way.

O'Connor House
Are there any particular anecdotes that you'd like to share of the courtesy calls with the judiciary?

Bob McConnell
Well, yes. There's, there's one that that I especially remember. Jeremiah Denton, a[n] Admiral who had served [with] distinction and had been a prisoner of war for five or six years in Vietnam. He said to, I say "to us," he said to Sandra. He said, "I know"--and he knew this because I'd already talked to him--"that you're not going to be willing, and, and probably shouldn't answer direct questions about legal issues that could come before the Court, because you don't want to prejudge them. But I will be asking you about social issues. And I want you to understand. I, I understand you're not going to answer the way I want you to, because you're not going to answer. But I will be making a record and I will, I'm sure, come off as being pushy and overbearing. But I want you to understand why it's so important to me." And he went through, I mean, he's written books about being in the prisoner of war camps. But he went through how, I mean, I'm using my words, it's been a long time. But essentially the message was, "I felt that I was a moral person, but I was a sailor. I, you know, I kind of pushed the boundaries of what's right and wrong as I lived my career" and so forth. He said, "And then I was captured, and I was in isolation, and I was beaten, and I was"--the isolation part kept coming back--and he said, "The only thing I had to cling to was my moral values, what I deeply, personally believed, and what I felt my country stood for. That's how I survived. And then I was released, and I came home and the world had changed. Free love. Beatniks. All this stuff. It was a shock. It was depressing. It was a very difficult time for me as I saw things that I had clung to and I knew that if I got back to, they would be the way I remembered them. And they weren't. That's why I ran for the Senate. And so while I will accept that you're not going to answer as completely as I would like, I'm going to keep asking it because I want to make the point of how important that is, at least to me."

And the reason I remember it, and I remember it so vividly is that senators take turns. The chairman, then the ranking, then the next-ranking Republican, then back and forth. And they'll give five minutes, and there's a little light, and the yellow comes on, and then the red comes on and you have to stop. And they take turns. And after several rounds of questions, some of the senators just pass after that, they've asked what they wanted. But Denton went through multiple rounds and kept asking the same things. And I could hear, I was sitting behind Sandra. And I could hear murmurs and they're, you know, kind of like, "Oh, come on, get over it." Blah blah blah. And I really had the feeling that the only two people in that hearing room that didn't mind at all that he was doing that were Sandra and me, because he had explained himself and why it was so important.

O'Connor House
So she, the hearings are completed, what happens next?

Bob McConnell
Well, I actually I will say there's one other thing. The first, I've never had this happen in a Congressional, in any kind of a hearing, let alone the nomination hearing. There was a break the first day for lunch. Well, that's the time I grab my witness and we go in some place and somebody may bring us a sandwich, but we go over what's happened and what were, you know, evaluate. I couldn't do that, because the Senate wives had set up a lunch.

But the Senate wives had set up a luncheon. And so she was supposed to--and she had accepted. I didn't know she had done this until right beforehand. And so I was going to lose her and not be able to talk to her. And I said, "I have to talk to you for a couple of minutes." So I don't remember, we got in the corner of the room or we went in the closet or something, I don't remember what.

She had, in the course of the morning, she had gone from "Senator Biden," and answered. She would [be] asked a question and then, "Senator," and she would respond. At some point in the morning, she switched that and was saying, "Mr. Chairman, Senator Biden." I noticed her change it and I wondered what that was about. And then it dawned on me, that is, at least back then, that was the courtesy at the Arizona Legislature. But it was being interpreted from the press table that she was looking to Thurmond for protection against the questioners. And I realized what was happening and I couldn't, you know, grab her. But at the lunch break I told her what she had done, and she looked at, "I didn't realize," I said, "I know you don't, just don't do it in the afternoon and it'll go away." And so in the afternoon, she went back to the, and the issue dropped. But there was all this little buzz at the, at the press table, that she was seeking protection against the Democratic questions or, I don't know if it was Democratic questions or it could have been Denton or John East, perhaps, but they were perceiving that as reaching out to Thurmond for help. Just a little thing. And I would have been the only one in that room that realized what was going on, because I had spent time at the Arizona legislature. So.

O'Connor House
So now the hearings are winding up, take us through the part subsequent.

Bob McConnell
The hearings completed--oh, I, every time you try to get me to go forward from there, I back up. One little thing that I found fascinating. Strom Thurmond, I mean, is obviously a very elderly gentleman from a different era completely. But he had called me the night before the hearing started and told me not to take Sandra to the hearing room, which is where I would have certainly taken her. He wanted me to bring her to his office because he wanted to walk her over to the hearing. When we got to the office, he had, I don't know if this is all that important, but Congressional offices have plants in them, I mean, office plants and so forth. And they come from the Botanical Garden, and they're just supplied to the offices. He had all of his plants removed and replaced with cactus for her time on the hill. And so I took, I took her to his office, and then he walked her, her hand on his arm, to the hearing room. I'm sure a lot of social commentators can think, find out a lot of things that are wrong with that and so forth. But he was trying to be a Southern gentleman. And, okay, that was the way it was. So we went there. But after the hearings were over, and it had a second day. I mean, we felt, we went back to the Department and evaluated everything like we did the first day. I mean, I think we all felt very, very good about how she, how she had answered the questions. I mean, she, she had studied it well, she's smart, she knew, she probably would have done fine without all the briefing books and so forth. But I mean, she really did an excellent job. And I think there were, there were several people that felt that, you know, you could take her transcripts and provide them to the next nominee and you would see a prototypical example of how to deal with, not necessarily the flashpoint issues of the day, but all the other issues that are brought up in a, in a hearing like that. And then the, I can't remember how long it was, there's, they can make some exceptions to the rules, but the vote, the vote was taken. And John and Sandra and I were in the, were in the--and Powell was with us, I believe--we were in the Senate Gallery when the vote was taken.

Unlike any nominee, other nominee that I handled, we were asked to go out on the Capitol with, we, she was asked go out on the Capitol steps. And senators came out and they had their pictures taken with her before we went down and got in the White House limousine and went back down to the Department. But it was, and it was a 99 to zero vote, Max Baucus was out of town. That was what kept us from 100 to zero.

O'Connor House
So, were you around when the swearing in took place?

Bob McConnell
Well, I know it's called a swearing in. I referred to it as a coronation. Several other people did, too. Yes, we were there. And I don't, my recollection is this, although there may, it may have happened years and years and years before, but it had, at the very least, it had been decades, many presidents before, that this had last happened. The Supreme Court has a chair in the chamber for the President of the United States. It's always vacant. It's just that there's a chair there. Ronald Reagan was there. And I was told that was the first time in at least, many, many, many, many presidencies. If not, he may have been the first, whoever came and sat in the chair. But he came for her, her investiture to the Court.

O'Connor House
And, could you describe it, from your perspective, what took place? We have photos, but--

Bob McConnell
Well, it's, I mean, it's, it's, you know, a traditional ceremony, it's not very long. I mean, you get sworn in, I mean. But because it was her, the place was packed. The, you know, lines were forever, and everybody used every means of hook or crook they could to get in the room. But I don't remember too much about it, because it wasn't, it's not a long ceremony. And then there was a reception at the Supreme Court. And I remember the President, as far as I know, I mean, he may have said something to her, but he was gone. He wasn't there for the reception. But I remember Judge Broomfield, who I, he was in tears. He was in tears. Can't remember what he said to me, but something, you know, "Proudest moment in my life, this is so wonderful" and so forth. Marshall Humphrey, who had been the President of the [Arizona] Senate, he was there, and I mean, these, the Arizonans that were there were very emotional and very, obviously proud and so forth.

I do remember, this is really going back in our story here, that after she was nominated, I kept reading in the newspapers people who said they had given the name to the President. And they all attached when they did it. And William French Smith, the Attorney General, was one of the most, if not the most circumspect person I've ever met in my life. He admitted to me that the night, or the, when the President was elected, the President had handed him a list of potential nominees. Now Bill expanded that list and so forth when we got into office. But her name was on the list the President gave. And as best I could tell, before anybody who took credit for it thinks they gave the name to the President. So where he got it I have no idea, and Bill Smith didn't know.

O'Connor House
What else would you like us to know about this , for our archives, our library, for generations to come?

Bob McConnell
Well, I think, you know, it was fun for me personally, I mean, as an Arizonan to be doing this. I mean, a few anecdotes and so forth. There were, I remember there was a fella, you know, I, he, I can't, the networks have changed since then as to whether they're channel five or one or what, they moved around. But the NBC affiliate here had a reporter by the name of Ron Tally. And Ron was assigned to come back and cover her confirmation process. And I had never known him before, but we got to be friends. And with Sandra's agreement and my press office's agreement, I used to give him heads up on where we would be. The, I mean, everybody seems to find out one way or another, but we tried to make sure Ron was, didn't get left out of what something was going on.

The Press Corps was fascinated with her. I mean, being the first woman really had an impact on the nation and, indeed, the world, I mean, if you looked at the world press. Sandra has a unique, as, as you know, a unique ability to listen to people and get to know people. Nobody's below. I remember I said to my wife Nadia as we drove back to the department after the investiture, I said, "Well, it's been a great ride." I said, "She's now in the stratosphere. She's, she's in the top echelon of the Green Book. I mean, she's right up there, the social calendar of Washington. So we'll be, read about her from now on." I never really felt that way, and I didn't feel bad about it. But I don't know, it was a month or five weeks later, Susan Platt, my assistant, buzzed me and said, "Justice O'Connor's on the phone." And I said, "Oh." I said, "Hello?" and she [Justice O'Connor] said, "Bob, why haven't I heard from you? We must get together." And she's kept the relationship because she doesn't forget people. Exceptional, exceptional.

But the Department , I've said it before, but I remember just what, by the time I was leaving at the end of the first term, there were people that you would see and they heard you were leaving and so forth that didn't work for you and were in divisions elsewhere and said, you know, "It was such a great thing to have a, a nominee being prepared and coming in out of the Department, it was, she was ours, she was ours." And that all goes back to this career deputy of mine who said, you know, "If you want this to be any different, you know, you need to see the Attorney General." And then, obviously, Bill took care of it.

O'Connor House
Anything else you'd like us to know?

Bob McConnell
I don't think...there, I mean, subsequently, I mean, this doesn't have anything to do with the confirmation and so forth. And maybe it's too long a story and you might want to edit it. But my wife Nadia, we met at Arizona State University, is Ukrainian-American. She was born in Austria as they, her family fled in front of the Red Army.

And in 19...either late December of '89 or '90, January of '90. We established the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. And she went off and opened an office in the Soviet Union. But anyway, we had, we had been asked by some of the [Ukrainian] democrats who were hoping to get independence and so forth, they said that, "Some of us are now getting elected to Parliament and so forth, and we've never run anything. We would love to come to the United States and learn your system of government. Not because that's what we want, but we know we've never been told the truth. We'd like to understand how it works."

So we eventually got money, and 13 parliamentarians from Ukraine were brought over. That's a long story, but Nadia had them in Indiana learning state government and so forth. And then they came to Washington for a week of things and met with committee chairmen and, in the White House, and, but I needed--Supreme Court, how does that fit in? Something they still, as of now, 2015, still need to understand how the judicial system should work. But Sandra hosted them for lunch in the Supreme Court and just mesmerized them, both socially and explaining the Court and, you know, how it works and how you get on the Court and so forth. I remember that being a very, one of the, one of the more impressive meetings because you're there in the Court, in the wonderful chambers and so forth. And she was so hospitable to them.

Just interesting sidelight, the next meeting was also at the Court, because I wanted them to understand the relationship between the branches, the Executive Branch and the Court. And the Solicitor General of the United States at the time was Ken Starr. And I remember Ken standing where Sandra had been, describing--he, I don't know, he hadn't talked to me about this, but he was explaining how the Justice Department, the Executive Branch has to come... And he uses an example, a case he had just argued about flag burning. And he gave his, he essentially gave a summary of his argument, about how the symbol of our country and how, he went on and on, and you could just see these 13 men and women nodding their head, "Yes, of course you can't burn it, of course, of course." And he got all done with that thing. and he said, "And the Supreme Court ruled against me that you can burn the flag." And they were, [gasp], and he said, the decision was, "What the symbol stands for is more important than the symbol." And they're all [eyes wide]...it was, it was so, I just, reading their faces it was so dramatic that they grasped the freedom of speech was more important. Now, I may not have liked the decision but, but it was an illustrative point. But I've gone to, I think I've attended about 20 Supreme Court arguments while she was on the Court. And I always enjoyed listening to the arguments. The only time I was really nervous about Sandra O'Connor was when I argued a case at the Supreme Court. I, I was concerned because all the members of the Court knew I had been involved. It had to do with federal land law, which she grew up knowing. I was just praying she wasn't going to ask me a question just to make a point. And I kept trying not to look at her, to look, just, I'll talk to these people. And then she did ask a question. And I, that was the one time I was really nervous. I gave her an answer. She was leaning forward, and she went [leans back], and sat back. I thought, "Phew, I got past that."

But I'm not sure about any more stories. But...

O'Connor House
Thank you so much for, these are priceless. And this is such an important piece. We didn't have anyone to tell us about that time in the history of her going to the Court. And so when I heard you were coming into town, and we got that first email, it was just like, "Oh my goodness, we absolutely..." And so thank you so much for offering.

Bob McConnell
Well, you know, when I talked to her yesterday, I had asked to see her for two reasons. One, to let her know that we were planning on coming back to Arizona. And the other, I wanted to tell her that I'm writing a book. And I, people have told me to do this because, I mean, the people that were in that first Reagan Justice Department, whether it was Bill Smith, who has never been appreciated for what an extraordinary Attorney General he was, Rudy Giuliani, Ken Starr, Ted Olson. I mean, it just kind of goes on. And anytime we're together, I now have been told that they just pump me to tell stories about when we did it. And they had started saying, "You really need to write it down." And I'm just thinking, you know, its just a bunch of stories. But I've come to the concl--well, Bob Bork, who's now passed away, almost on his deathbed made me promise I'd write the book. Because his view was that if you take the stories, one, they're interesting, two, some of them are funny. But if you do it right, you can really tell how Bill Smith did something that nobody's done as well since, in managing the Department. It just, even the careerists who didn't necessarily agree with Reagan policy, said, "We've never had the Department run like this before."

And so there is a story to tell in addition to the individual stories. But I wanted Sandra to know that I was going to do this because I had been told by Bob and a couple other people that when you start, when you prepare some kind of a draft to present to a publisher, you're going to want to have the chapter, however you do it, on Sandra, be something you present. Because that's going to be a hook of interest. And you have something that nobody else has ever had, even the ones that interviewed you for their books. And that is, I've got, I have all the notes from the courtesy calls. Because when I would go in, I mean, I was a fly on the wall, I was there. But I wrote, as fast as I could, almost transcripts of the courtesy calls. And then I went back after everybody went home at night, and I kind of redid it so I could read my writing.

And there are, I mean I, obviously I talked about Denton's, but, but there are things in there just...I've never, I've never seen anywhere, anybody talk about courtesy calls. They all, "What goes on in a courtesy call?" Well, some of them are nothing more than, "Hi." But some of them kind of come out and say, "These are the things I'm concerned about, I'm gonna be asking about this, and this is why," and so forth. And I, there's, that's kind of interesting stuff. And I wanted her to know that I was thinking about doing it because if she had some reservation--I mean, I didn't ask her if she had reservations, which, we referenced the fact that I have notes that nobody else has. And she was perfectly comfortably, she said it, you know, "If you want to talk to me about it when you're doing it, fine." So I was relieved that she was comfortable with that. I knew that John, he had said, "You know, at some point maybe I'd like those because we ought to do a book." Well, I mean, that didn't happen, but if I'm going to do it, I know that he was interested in doing it.

O'Connor House
And I think it would be a remarkable glimpse into a process that few citizens would ever, ever otherwise--

Bob McConnell
Oh, yeah. I mean, because even people in government go, you know, "What happens in a courtesy call?" You know, "What goes on?" Because there's always a suspicion that it's pre-, pre-planned, or, you know, and like on abortion, "Well you, you got a commitment from her before you nominated." No! I mean, I don't know what other administrations--I know they all say pretty much the same thing we did. But Reagan had an absolute thing to Bill Smith. "We're, if we're telling the Senate they can't ask substantive things and get them prejudged, we're not asking as we select them. We're going to do our best to figure it out on our own." And, so I know she was never asked.

O'Connor House
Well, she's such an historic figure and it was such an historic time in the history of the Court, I just think it would be marvelous.

Bob McConnell
This doesn't relate to this. You asked me how I knew her. There was, there was one other thing that she and I have never talked about. Maybe we ought to, this, it would be kind of fun to hear what she has to say about it. When Bruce Babbitt was coming up for reelection, I got a call from Marshall Humphrey. And I had run John Rhodes's race, he had won by 50.2% in '74, and he had me come back and run the next one, he won by 60-something percent. Marshall said, "A group of us want to approach Sandra O'Connor about running for Governor." And I'm thinking, "Okay." And he said, "But we know that if we ask her if she'll run for Governor, she'll say no. So what we want to do is put together a committee, be able to present to her that we have the fundraising all taken care of, who's going to, we want the whole thing set up so we can say, 'If you say yes, we're ready to go.'" And I, "Marshall, why are you calling me? I don't have any money." He said, "No, will you commit to being the campaign manager?" And I said, "Well, I'd need to work out some details." He said, "That's why I'm calling."

And so I met with some of them, we worked out what it would be, what it would cost, blah, blah, blah. And I, Gordon Murphy was part of it, I don't remember who all, well I remember some of the names, but...the committee was, was kind of the behind the scenes people. Because Marshall was, he went to the State Senate if I recall, when I was in college, he was elected. In his first term, he was President of the Senate. And he was president like three terms, and then he didn't run anymore. And so, I remember being called and [their] saying, "We're going to make a presentation to her." And, and then she tentatively said yes. And then they got back and said, "No, she doesn't want to go forward." But she doesn't, I don't know if she, if they ever presented who the campaign manager was, but I was all getting ready to be campaign manager for her, for--I didn't tell the Attorney General that at that time--for her run for governor. But she's much more historic the way it turned out.

O'Connor House
Well thank you. That was incredible.