By Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Speech and discussion for the Ronald Reagan Foundation

December 12, 2011

Type: Speech

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Sandra Day O'Connor: Well now, sit down. You've already heard everything I was going to tell you, so I could probably sit down, too! I'm not sure, is this thing working? Can you hear me? Okay, I'm so glad all of you are here because you are precisely the people I've been concerned about in this country, and I'm going to talk to you a little bit about that today.

You've already heard part of it. I'm now an unemployed cowgirl is what I am. He could have made a much shorter introduction. I grew up on a cattle ranch in, on the New Mexico-Arizona border and we were 35 miles from the nearest town. We only went to town once a week so we could get the mail and get some groceries pay the bills and then go back to the ranch and it was really marvelous out there.

I love. Living on that ranch and I sort of grew up on the back of a horse, but I don't ride much anymore. I've reached the stage where I get kind of stiff and not feeling too good with that when President Reagan and we're celebrating what the 30th anniversary of the Reagan Administration this year imagine that and when he was running for the presidency.

Three years ago. He wasn't sure that he was making Headway with Women Voters. He thought well that was somewhat questionable and so he started saying occasionally now if I get hurt if I'm president when I'm elected, he didn't say if when I'm elected president if I get a chance to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court, I'd like to put a qualified woman on.

His attorney general when he was elected president. His first one was William French Smith a wonderful lawyer from the Los Angeles area and Bill Smith told me some years later that one of the things he did when he went to Washington and started serving was to make a little list of. Women judges in the country and he had both Republicans and Democrats on that list, but it was a very short list, you know why there weren't any women judges?That's why very very few now that's been a while but really women had not held. Many judicial positions around the country and there were a few more democratic than Republicans on that little list of his he said he kept the list under the phone at the Department of Justice. He showed me one time. I had lunch at the department showed me the phone show me where he kept the list.

and President Reagan had not been in office more than about four months when Justice Potter Stewart announced his. Retirement and that meant there was going to be a vacancy to be filled and they started looking at the list and because it was so short it didn't take them too long before they saw well, here's a republican woman and they sort of thought that might be better than aiming a Democrats and see just been recently elected as a Republican.

So they sent people out to Arizona to investigate me and also to talk to me and see what they thought and I remember when that crew was there. It included Ken Starr member Ken Starr. He was in that group that came to Arizona and I fix lunch for him and we talked most of the day. And he went back and he must not have been a totally negative report because short time thereafter.

I was invited to go back to Washington and to talk to some of the people in the White House who were the presidents closest Associates and helpers. And we spent a morning at a hotel suite in Washington that they had rented for the occasion and all those people got to talk to me and see what they thought and then the Attorney General said Well, we'd like to get you to the White House at four o'clock to meet the president.

I really didn't know Washington DC. I had never worked there or really been there. And I said well, okay. Where is it? How do I get there? So I was staying at a motel off of Dupont Circle someplace. So the Attorney General said well, I'll get my secretary to pick you up. And so that's what we did.

She was driving some kind of a Green Chevrolet or something and I stood on the corner on Dupont Circle. In DC and she came by and picked me up and we drove to the White House and we waited a while and the outer office for the president's office. And eventually I was called in and we had a nice conversation.

We really did he was such a delightful person to talk to very upbeat and positive and he was more interested. I tell you in my Ranch background and anything else he loved to ride horseback. And Nancy Reagan was a writer too. So I think that was of prime interest to tell you the truth. But I guess the rest of it checked out satisfactorily anyway for the event and when I left after about an hour or so, I went to the Reagan are now called Reagan Airport wasn't thin.

And that on the plane to fly back to Phoenix and I breathed a big sigh of relief and I said well to myself what an interesting day to visit the White House to be in the Oval Office to meet the president to be there with his closest advisers and thank goodness. I don't have to go do that job because I could not believe.

That he would ask me to do it. I just couldn't I just thought that was not realistic at all. So I went back and told my husband all about the visit. He said, oh, he'll pick you I said, no, he won't he can't sew. Not too long after my phone rang. I was at my Chambers on the court of appeals in Arizona phone rang.

It was Ronald Reagan on the phone Sandra. I'd like to announce your appointment on Monday. Is that all right with you? Oh dear. That was one frightening moment. I don't scare easily, but that was a concern because it's exciting to be the first to do. But I did not want to be the last and if I took that job and did a lousy job.

It might be a very long time before we had another woman on the court. So that was my concern and it was my husband who said over here for heaven sakes you'll do fine. Don't be silly. Come on, so. I said yes, and I was duly sworn Ian at the court and president and mrs. Reagan came to the Supreme Court for that ceremony.

They were seated right there as close as I am to you on the front row, and it was so touching to see them and my three children and husband were down there close by. And it was a very special occasion indeed. Presidents don't like to have Oath of Office administered at the Supreme Court two new justices why no television in the courtroom.

and they like the publicity of the television and that's why these days you will see those ceremonies conducted in the white house where they have plenty of TV cameras and they still don't at the Supreme Court, but President Reagan didn't mind that he said that's where it ought to be and he was.

With his wife and I thought that was wonderful of him really cuz it really is a ceremony that belongs there and I served for 25 years and my wonderful husband. Who was the one who said? Oh, yes do it you have to do it. He got a bad disease. It's called Alzheimer's your memory leaves you and your brain stops functioning properly and eventually.

Brings an end to the life of the person with Alzheimer's and we manage for my husband's care pretty well for quite long time and he reached the stage where he absolutely had to be in a. Care Center for full-time care and I wanted him back in Phoenix where we had lived for so many years. So I resigned retired didn't resign.

I retired from the Supreme Court at that point and we did manage to put my husband in a care center in Phoenix where he died not too long after but he was well cared for and there I was without a job. So what to do? There are a lot of offers of organizations that would like to have a supreme court even an ex Supreme Court Justice help them in some way.

But I thought it seemed to me that the best possible use of my time would be spent in trying to educate young people about how our government works what I had learned. Over a period of time is that young people were not well informed about how our government works and what's going on in fact.

Less than half of eighth graders know the purpose of the Bill of Rights is you said in the introduction, but it's right there in the name for heaven's sakes. It's the Bill of Rights.

Only 7% of these high schoolers can name the three branches of government. Now, that's pretty scary. Do you know that to become a citizen of the United States from another country who have to take a test all about our government how it works and what it is. It's a hard test our high school graduates can't begin to pass that test.

But that's what we require somebody to become a citizen. So we have work to do we really do we must do better than we did and. We live so far out of town on the lazy be Ranch that we didn't have a school I could go to when I was little and my parents sent me to live with grandparents in El Paso and go to school in El Paso, which I did and we had Civics every year.

I can't remember A Year Without Civics and that place and most of it was boring as can be and I got so tired of hearing about Stephen F, Austin. That I just didn't want to go back to class. But anyway, Texas has a pretty colorful history and I can understand why they the teachers wanted to focus on it, but I did learn something in school in grade school and high school about Civics and that's more than is happening today.

So we also know. That young people your age now tell me if you agree after I tell you what the figures are that we have. That you spend about an average of 40 hours a week in front of some kind of a screen television and or computer now, is that right? If you think it is raise your hand. Yeah, I think it's right see I know.

Okay. Well, you know what? I only made about one hour a week. From you you don't give me that don't you think in front of a screen? You can give me one hour and you can dial in a website. It's www.


com. And you know what's on it games games and you like to play games on your computer's so you dial in you promise me that you will and you play those games on.

And I guarantee you that you're going to learn something from those games. They're fun, and they're also a great teaching tool. So when you leave today and get back to your screen dial-up icivics and start those games. I think we have found an engaging way for young people to learn and that's what we're trying to do and we're making links.

With people across the country to try to make that happen. Now. Are we going to have some questions from these students? Is that our plan? Okay. Well, I think some of you want to ask me some things now. I don't know if I can answer but I'll try so, how are we going to operate this? I'm

Host: going to come back up on stage.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Okay.

All right. Anyway,yeah. I'm glad all of you were here, and I guess we're going to hear some of your questions if I'm not.

Host: Excellent. Yeah, so just just a little note on the way that the question-and-answer is going to work. So we're going to be taking questions both from our live audience of students here 700 of you are so and we have microphones on the lower level with some of our staff who is there to help you out and a couple of microphones up on the upper level.

So if you have a question you'd like to ask the Justice. Don't be shy. You can get up and get in line and we'll go around. We also have an online audience of students whose tuned into this and I have a little monitor here that's going to help me choose some questions, and I think we're going to start off with an online question to give you.

You know a minute or two to work up the courage to stand up in front of seven hundred of your closest friends and ask a question to a living legend. So

Sandra Day O'Connor: forget that last part didn't mean it. Okay?

Host: Okay. So our our first question our first question comes from our online audience and it asks, what do you see your legacy is being?

Sandra Day O'Connor: Well the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court Now it only took a hundred ninety-one years for that to happen. That's all it took and thank goodness. It didn't happen finally because believe it or not fifty percent of the people in this country are what their female the other 50 or mail, and I think most people in the country.

Look around at their public offices of governance their legislative bodies and their city councils and their officials. And they like to see both men and women on those bodies, not just all one. And for a long time, it was all one, it was all male. And when I came along, that was still kind of the way it was. Certainly,as I told you, for 191 years. It had been that way on the Supreme Court. So it was time that people could see some openness in the process that would allow women as well as men to serve. Okay,

Host: thank you. So once again, if you if you want to ask a question, I have to raise your hand or anything.

You just walk right up. Looks like I'm looking upstairs to see if we have one. I think we have another question from coming in from online and this one has to do with the. The legal system in general. So one of the one of the books that Justice O'Connor wrote is called the Majesty of law. One of the great parts of law isit allows you to kind of look at a circumstance and measured against the law. But the question that comes in from online says that that many think that the legal system allows those with more money to hire superior lawyers and that in some way the law is kind of slanted towards them. So. What do you, do you have any thoughts on that as as it applies to the legal system and what you saw before?

Sandra Day O'Connor: Well, I am going to try to make a question out of that. I'm not sure what the question is, but it may relate to cases that come to the Supreme Court and whether they come to us in a fair, reasonable manner. And anyone who has had a question of federal law decided in a case in the lower state or federal courts, if you haven't legal problem and you've gone to court at the state level or in the lower federal courts, and if you lose in those courts, you can file a petition.

With the United States Supreme Court and say please take my case. This is the issue of federal law. This is what happened in the lower courts. We think it's an important issue that the Supreme Court needs to resolve and that goes to all nine justices. It's file along with briefs, which aren't brief at all their long written arguments expelling it all out and they asked the court to take the case and.

It takes the agreement of four of the nine justices to take a case of the gore. Devon require Maggiore four of the nine we'll do it. So when you file a petition you hope you can get at least four votes to take the case. And if they do then the court has to decide it and you make your arguments and written form all briefs and they aren't brief they're long and an oral argument is available at the court for at least an hour at the court.

And so then the justices have to sit down together. All nine and decide the case. And a majority of the nine means five you need five to have a holding of the court. All right, you have some some people lined up over here. We better get to their questions. My name is Michelle Park. I attend Crenshaw High School and I want to know how effective is that iCivics game in teaching civics?Well, thank you for asking. I think you're asking the wrong person. I think it's terrific. I think they really learn and actually we've had it tested to see if it is effective and we're told by the people. Run the test that it is very effective in teaching and part of it is because the games are engaging and fun and we've base them on real situations that could arise and we think we've done a pretty good job on that.

So I think you'll think it's

Host: effective.

Sandra Day O'Connor: I was wondering when you were mine. I need a Justice. It was really difficult for women. Do you feel like women now that are trying to become lawyers in the Supreme Court or anything? We have a better chance. Absolutely. You have a better chance. Of course. Let me just start with the Supreme Court. A hundred ninety-one years,no woman. Then me. Another 12 years. Finally a second woman, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I retire, and today we have three women on the US Supreme Court. Three.

It's definitely better there and it's definitely better all across the globe in terms of opportunities for women thankfully. Okay. My name is Noah Davila and I turn signals. Justice O'Connor you must have had many struggles and becoming a Supreme Court Justice in your opinion. What personal strength and character traitsdid you draw from to help you overcome those problems? Well, I was a ranch girl. I had to do the work out there. Believe me you had to do a lot by yourself. You were assigned to go out and find some cow and calf that needed help and they were 15 miles off and you had to go find them and bring them back.

You have to help in so many ways on that ranch and if they ask you to do something you were responsible and believe me, if you didn't do it, well enough you'd hear about it forever. So you learn how to take responsibility if you work on a ranch and I think maybe that helped me in life. I'm pretty sure it did.

I hope you have things that you have to do where you can be responsible because it makes a difference. Thanks for asking.

Host: Maybe go up. We have a question up in the mezzanine level there we do.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Yes my goodness. I'm not looking at all the right places where I can't even see the lights are so bright.

Okay, right name is Thailand Kelly and I represent Doherty High School and in representing Jordan high school. I just want to take this time to thank you. We really appreciate you taking this time to come talk to us. But my actual question was, what motivated you to be all that you are today? I don't know because I grew up on a ranch and was used to doing things and it didn't matter on that ranch whether I was a girl or a boy the work had to be done and they didn't care somebody had to do it and that was the thing.

So I just thought the rest of Life ought to be the same and when I was I went to Stanford as an undergraduate. And I took a class from a marvelous law professor who taught one class at Stanford to non-legal students and he was the most inspiring Professor I ever had and because of his class and because of him I decided oh, well, I don't know any lawyers, but it sounds like a good thing to me and I applied to law school at Stanford.

And I didn't know if I'd get in or not and to my great surprise they took me so there I was and so I thought well, I better start this and having started. I better finish you can't leave Midway. So I finished and then I was prepared to try to do something in the practice of Law, and I will tell you that it was heard in those days.

I got out of Law School. in 1952. And there were notices on the placement bulletin board at Stanford law school and they were from every Major law firm in California at Stanford law graduates. Call us. We want to talk to you about a job call us. There were at least 40 of those on the bulletin board, and I called 40 phone numbers of law firms to ask for an interview not a single one would even give me an interview.

I was female they wouldn't even talk to me and they have these notices on the bulletin board. I had a friend at Stanford from undergraduate days whose father was a partner in a big California law firm, and I went to her and I said talk to your father and see if he would get me an interview in the law firm he was.

And she did and he got me an interview and I made the trip to Los Angeles down here talk to the distinguished partner. Oh miss de you have a fine resume here miss day. But Misty. This firm has never heard a woman lawyer. I don't see the day when we will and I looked shocked and he said well our clients wouldn't stand for.

And that was where I was and I needed a job because I got engaged a John O'Connor. He was a year behind me and we both like to eat and that meant one of us was going to have to work. That was me. So. I heard that the district attorney County attorney in San Mateo County California had once had a woman lawyer on his staff.

And so I wrote him a letter and made an appointment to see him and he was a very nice man. He was Italian American and they still elect County attorneys in California. It's an elected office. Anyway, he'd been there for a while and he couldn't have been nicer and he said, oh you have a fine resume Miss day.

I did have a woman lawyer in my. Office at one time and she did a good job. I'd be happy to have another one and you have a good record here. I'd be happy to have you but I get my money from the County Board of Supervisors, and I'm not funding to hire another deputy. What can I do? And so I went back to the lazy b Ranch because I was getting ready for our wedding out there and I wrote him a long letter that's now in the museum and I said, I told him that things that I thought I could do well in the office if he hired me and I said, I know you don't have any money, but I'll work for you for nothing.

You don't have to pay me a dime until such time as you have a little money. They something that's alright with me and he said, you know, I don't have an office to put anybody else and I said I know you don't have a vacant office. But I met your secretary. She's very nice and I'd be happy to put my desk in the secretary's office if she doesn't object. That was my first job as a lawyer. No pay, and I put my desk in with the secretary, but you know what? I loved my job. I got such interesting legal questions to try to answer. I just loved every minute of my job. So it just in those days a woman had them maybe. Make some special efforts to get some kind of work, but I'm glad I did and it all worked out.

Host: Alright, I want to take another online question that will come back to our one. So a question that's coming in from online is there are certainly flaws in any legal system. So do you think of is there an area of our legal system that you think is most in need of change?

Sandra Day O'Connor: Oh goodness. I wish I'd had time to think about that.

There are areas that need Improvement. We've made certain areas of the law very very complex and hard for the average citizen or anybody else to know what the law really is or how it affects them. And I think we need to focus a little bit on less but more explanatory legal Provisions in many areas of the law than we have today.

We've made it so complex. That many people can't even begin to understand what they are the requirements and I think we could do a little better in many areas. I'm not going to try to single one out. Okay.

Host: Thank you. So, let's go back to our student audiences.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Tax law for one.

Student: okay. Like to say that I respect your passion and dedication. I think secondly my question is what was some of the hardest challenges you had to face getting a BA and your LLB at Stanford University?

Sandra Day O'Connor: What challenges did--well, I had a challenge to get in in the first place. I went to high school in El Paso Texas and out of my entire house high school class.

I was the only student to apply for out-of-state admission to college. The only one. And I don't think Stanford had any reason in the world to accept my application. I had good grades in high school and I was engaged in various activities and maybe it's because nobody else applied to Stanford from El Paso, Texas.

I don't know any way to my relief and surprised they took me and I'm glad they did but. Anyway, it's hard to get in and I wish you luck when you apply because it's not easy. I think it helps in high school. If you learn how to learn how to write. Well now most teachers don't like to teach creative or writing because it's harder.

It's more homework to do to correct people on their writing skills. But it is one of the most important things you can learn. So if you have a chance in school learn to write well, the other thing I want you to do is learn how to read fast. I took a speed reading course and boy I can whizzed through a book and a day or several in a day and that really helps as you go on it really does.

So why don't you learn to read fast and right. Well, you may have to take an extra course ER to to do that if that's alright. You'll be glad you did.

Host: Thank you. Let's go over here.

Student: Good morning. My name is Shannon had and I attend Crenshaw High School. My question is being a woman in such a hard economy.

How do you like deal with all the stress? And how many people was going against you and doubted all the villains you have like I did you get through.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Well, I didn't grow up when the economy was in as much of a downturn As You Are. We're in an economic time today when we're in a somewhat of a downturn in our national economy and jobs are scarce when I went to school and graduated.

It was the end of World War Two. We were just getting out from under the war and so it was kind of. A new opportunity for our country and it wasn't as difficult to get a job as it is for you today. And that's why I think it's important that while you're in school. You learn to read fast and right well because you may have to use those skills when you get a job.

Okay, it's harder than it was for me.

Student: and my question. Do you feel there's a particular area where Civic engagement is lacking? If so, which area and what do you suggest to increase and encourage more active involvement?

Sandra Day O'Connor: Well, I think the whole thing is lacking. I mean when you look at the statistics barely a third can name the three branches of government much less say what they do.

I mean it's lacking across the board. So we need broad understanding of how our government works and what makes it function and how does it function now? I hate to say this. It's sad really but many of the job opportunities are in the public sector. They're not all in the private sector today when you get a job, you may we'll end up working for the state the county the city or the federal government there more public jobs.

In some ways than there are in the private sector. So you better learn about the public sector and how it works and what they do. It's terribly important that you do now. Do we have somebody else up top? I can't see him.

Student: Good morning everyone. Good morning Justice O'Connor. My name is Dominique Rogers and Iris represent Doherty High School.

And my question is when you were in office, what made you take a stand for minorities?

Sandra Day O'Connor: What's the question? When you were in office, what made you take a stand for--

Student: --minorities.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Take a stance for minorities. When I was in the legislature. I was in Arizona State Senate. And we had at that time the Equal Rights Amendment circulating around the country asking states to ratify it and that got a got a bit controversial.

Because nobody knew where an adoption of that Amendment would lead? Maybe you couldn't even have separate restrooms in public facilities like here at the Reagan Library. And people got a little nervous. So what it did make us do is to start looking at all our laws and seeing, did they clearly discriminate against the female sex, at least that's what I wanted to do.

And the other thing that you did was to see if it discriminated against people of certain ethnic backgrounds against African Americans against Asian Americans. What what did it really do and we had to start looking at that, but for the the male-female distinctions what I did in, Arizona, because I held a position in the legislature which gave me a little clout,we went through every single statute in the state of Arizona and we pulled out everyone that just discriminate--discriminated on the basis of gender and we've offered an amendment to correct it for every single one of those laws. And by golly, I got it passed. Now. How's that? Pretty-- pretty effective.

Host: for our next question. I want to I want to go back to our online question and this one comes in and it's actually about a current event. So it says, in what circumstances should there be limits to First Amendment rights? In particular talking about the Occupy Movement that's happening across the country.

Sandra Day O'Connor: There's no way to answer that, in what circumstances--. The first amendment is pretty critical. It protects our basic fundamental rights. I mean, let's see. Let's see how its worded. Where's my purse? Somebody brought it who's got it? Somebody brought my purse in here. May I have my purse? Okay.

Alright now here we are. I knew I brought it. Now. Just a minute. I've got to look for a second. I'm something hard to find. Have you ever tried to find anything in a woman's purse? Don't start it. It's impossible. All right, this is what I carry with me always. You know what it is. It's the Constitution of the United States. NowI hope you get one.

I want every one of you to have one of these and I hope your schools-- are there any people here representing your schools? Any faculty or anybody?

Host: Yeah,

Sandra Day O'Connor: tell him that if I have the power now, which I don't I'd put out a court order telling the schools. They had to give you a constitution to carry.

All right, here's the First Amendment. Now, it's addressed not to States, but to Congress. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Well, that's what I was talking about. Now. We've got an issue today. What do they call those? Occupying people and all this? And what do they call themselves?

Host: The occupy?

Sandra Day O'Connor: I don't know there are some protests going on and there's a movement that calls himself occupiers and they have been setting up tent cities and so forth.

Now there's a dandy First Amendment question because many cities are saying, what can we do? They've taken over our parks. They set up tents and they're living there. So the citizens can't go in and use the parksp Now, there is a dandy First Amendment question for you. Now, you go back to school and you talk about that, because there's a perfect first amendment issue for you. And I'm sure the courts are going to be having to address that. Andthey're going to have to find some way to thread through. You can't prevent citizens from going in public areas and gathering and saying we don't like what you're doing, state or city. We think you ought to do something else. We think you ought to change your policies on this to--from that to this.

That is protected in the First Amendment. But it probably is not protected to allow you to set up a tent and live there day in and day out in the park. You know, there are some limits even though they're not written in. But that's a perfect question, and I hope you go back to your schools and talk about that one.

Host: Okay, let's go.

Student: My name is Federico Gaitan and I'm representing High Tech High. In terms of the Wall Street movement. How do you think that movement is reflecting our society? And yeah, basically

Sandra Day O'Connor: What movement? You describe it.

Student: Occupy wall Street movement.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Well, what do you mean by the Wall Street movement? Tell me what you're talking about.

Student: The one you were just talking about.

Sandra Day O'Connor: The one I was just talking about. Okay, and your question is what are the limits?

Student: How does it, what do you think our society is trying to say through that movement?

Sandra Day O'Connor: I don't know. I'm not part of it. I don't know and I don't think the people occupying the parks speak for everybody in the country.

I think you have to ask first of all, the people themselves who are in the parks, What is it you want to achieve? What are we, what do you think we're doing wrong? What is it you want to achieve? Let's define it first. I'm not sure I know. What it is, but they don't speak for everyone in the country.

They speak for specific thing. And we need to get their goals and concerns defined to start with. And they may have some valid goals and we ought to start talking about them, but does that enable them to set up tents and live in the park? Perhaps not. We're going to see a lot of questions arising out of that.

Student: My name is Lana Zimmerman and I. Justice O'Connor, what advice would you give to a young girl today who would like to follow in your career path?

Sandra Day O'Connor: Well the same thing I followed. Learn as much as you can in school. Learn to write well. Learn to read fast. Learn to be a good student. And then see if you can't get a job when you finish school at something worth doing. My goal in life,I'll tell you what it was, it was to work at work worth doing. I knew I wanted to work, but I wanted whatever work I settled in, I wanted to feel that that was work that was worthwhile, something worth doing. And when I went to work for the Attorney General in Arizona, I felt yes. That was one of my early jobs,I thought it was really worth doing. When I got in the legislature and worked there, yes, I thought that was worth doing. And it wasn't too bad when I got on the Supreme Court. That was probably worth doing, don't you think? But even at the bottom level, whatever it is. And my first job, I had to create for myself.

I had to open a law office, hang out a shingle with one partner, pay the rent, hire a secretary, and hope to get business. And it wasn't the kind of questions that usually come to the US Supreme Court. It was landlord-tenant problems, marital problems, things like that. But that was work worth doing, actually, because I got to learn a lot about our way of life and our society and people's problems.


Host: let's go here and then we'll go up there. Good

Student: morning. Mr. Connor. My name is Mohammed Aziz representing high-tech. I and I would like to ask you what is your opinion on Obamacare since the justice is currently aren't talking.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Oh, I don't know. I I don't know what is contained in that long complicated law.

I'm waiting for the court decision of coming to the Supreme Court. And you know what I'm going to do if I get a chance? I'm going to try to be in Washington DC and sit in the courtroom for part of that oral argument. And I'll try to find out just what it is at issue. Because I'm curious, too. I don't know what's all engaged. Most major nations in the world today have some kind of comprehensive Medical Care Provisions for their citizens.

Most Nations do. We don't, and I guess this was an effort to provide a broader Medical Care coverage for people than we've had in the past and to direct that from the federal level. And I really don't know what's all in it. But we're going to find out more when the court hears it. And I think the arguments are scheduled in March. And it's a very complex case that they took. The court has setfive hours for oral argument. I don't remember anything like that in my lifetime. So it must be a pretty complicated case. It must have many questions attached to it, or they wouldn't have had to set five hours for oral argument. So tune in. An I am going to, too.

Host: let's go upstairs, please. Okay.

Student: Hello. My name is Patrick brillhart and I represent Duarte High School. And what I was really wondering is what exactly went through your mind as being announced the second most powerful woman in the country at your time.

Sandra Day O'Connor: "Oh, well, that's absurd." That was what went on in my mind. I had a good job, but I certainly, it didn't rank at that level.

Student: Okay. Hi my name is __, I represent __ Christian School. And my question was if based on your conscience, you found an act or Behavior immoral, yet based on the rule of law you believed you had to rule in favor of that which you found immoral, how would you reconcile your conscience with it?

Sandra Day O'Connor: Well, I wouldn't. I'd get off the court if I had that problem. I'd say, "I don't belong there." You have to decide questions of law. Law, not personal opinion.

Not your conscience. You hope that your answer is one that would satisfy your own personal standards as well. But if it doesn't, you are constrained by this Constitution. See it? I'm holding it. And if my opinion is different, "I wouldn't have written it that way, so I'm not going to follow it." You don't have that leeway as a member of the court or a judge.

You know, so that's an easy question to answer.

Host: We actually really have time for just one more question. Okay, there's a lot of

Sandra Day O'Connor: where is it

Host: coming from? So we're going to go to this gentleman, right?

Sandra Day O'Connor: Oh, you've got a big job there.

Student: Hello Justice O'Connor. My name is Emil __ and I attend arcadia High School. My question is this I read this really unique quote that said that you are, quote, a "moderating influencehesitant to expand the law in either direction." What prompted you to be more politically neutral, and what made you be known as the Swing Vote?

Sandra Day O'Connor: I hate that term, swing Vote. You know, oh, well, I'm up here one day, I'm over there the next. That is a terrible term. As though you have a choice on the bench.

I didn't have a choice. We had to decide issues on the supreme court of federal law. It could be interpreting some law passed by Congress. And there you are governed by the language of the law that Congress passed. And what we know of, anyway, was the intent of Congress. If there's some uncertainty about it, what was Congress intending? And we can look at the record to find that out.

And if it's a constitutional issue, my goodness, we've been in business a long time. We have over 200 years of legal precedents to follow. This nation is a common law country. I bet you all don't even know what that is. Great Britain's a common law country, we fashioned our system after theirs. Our understanding is that we are bound by the law as articulated by previousdecisions of the Supreme Court and the other governing Appellate Court decisions. We aren't free to ignore what's been decided in the past. If a decision has been decided and it's still out there, it hasn't been reversed or changed, we're bound by it. And that's makes us part of a common-law Nation.

We aren't just free to say, "Oh well, that's a good idea we'll do it." There are, there are legal principles out there that we have promised to follow in our system of government, and it all starts right here. Thank you.

Host: So I have I just some brief closing remarks, but I just want to make kind of a logistical Point here. That after after we're done we're going to ask Justice O'Connor and her and her guests to exit the the facilities and ask that you remain seated and someone from our staff the lovely and talented Miss Eliza Whiteley manager.

The Discovery Center will come up and dismiss You by school. So please just wait in your seat until that happens. And I want to thank you students. Those of you who have joined us here in person and those of you who have joined us online. For engaging in this sort of public discussion. This is a good starting point for you.

You have some follow-up homework from the Justice. You have to go to icivics dot-org tonight when you get home for one hour, that's all we ask

Sandra Day O'Connor: an hour a week

Host: an hour a week.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Yeah. There we go. That's better.

Host: And upon her confirmation in the Senate which by the way was a unanimous ninety nine to nothing vote with only senator baucus from Montana who was absent right.

Sandra Day O'Connor: He wrote me a letter afterwards and he said, I'm sorry, I wasn't there for the vote. I was going to vote for you and he sent me a copy of A River Runs Through It to read. So you might read that, too, it's pretty good.

Host: It's good. So President Reagan said, Judge O'Connor is I have come to know her personally, very warm and Brilliant woman who has an outstanding career in Arizona.

I know the court and the nation will benefit both from her lifetime of work service and experience in the legal profession and from her solid grasp of the. As you saw she has it in her purse 30 years later Justice O'Connor you fulfilled and exceeded each and every expectation mentioned by President Reagan. The court, the nation, each and every student in this audience, myself,we thank you for joining us today, and we thank you very much. So please join me in thanking.

Sandra Day O'Connor: Just wait a minute. I really appreciate being here. And I think President Reagan was one of our great presidents, and I felt so privileged to have been able to meet him and see him on a number of occasions. And I thought he was a very gifted and able president. And I feel very privileged in my lifetime to have been able to be engaged in public service, and I want each one of you now to think about what you can do in life at work worth doing, okay?Thank you.