Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Sandra Day O’Connor and Me

 

I worked with Sandra Day O’Connor; she was one of my nine bosses at the Arizona Court of Appeals where I was a Staff Attorney. I’d like to share my experience of her on a personal basis. My judicial inclination is that of Scalia and Thomas; this is not the place for me to talk about my many disagreements with Justice O’Connor; it is to share a bit of my experience of her.

Sandra Day O’Connor was born on March 26, 1930. She was third in her class at the Stanford College of Law when she graduated in 1952, at the age of 22. She was Presiding Editor-in-Chief of the Stanford Law Review. She could not get a job. She offered to work for no salary as a Deputy County Attorney in San Mateo County, without an office, where she shared space with a secretary. She was active in Young Republicans and served as an Assistant Attorney General in Arizona representing the Arizona State Hospital, our facility for mentally ill people. In 1979 she was appointed to the Arizona State Senate to fill a vacancy. She became the State Senate Majority Leader, second only to the President of the State Senate. She ran for the Superior Court and was elected.

In 1979, Arizona’s sole female appellate judge, Mary Schroeder was nominated to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Arizona’s Democratic governor Bruce Babbitt felt that it was critical that Arizona have at least one woman in the appellate courts and he and his wife, Hattie Babbitt, also an attorney, called on Republican Sandy O’Connor and asked her to apply to be appointed the Court of Appeals. She did and he selected her.

I had already been working as a Staff Attorney at the Court of Appeals when she arrived. She was an extremely pleasant person. We had two annual spaghetti lunches at the local “Spaghetti Factory” each year, one after all of the law clerks had arrived for the year, and one before any of the law clerks would leave after their annual tour of service. She has the first judge to bring any of her children to this luncheon. An irony is that the owner of the Spaghetti Factory had had a lawsuit in her court when she was a trial judge, and the jury had ruled against him. He did not blame her, however, and loved her as his trial judge.

Most appellate decisions are memorandum decisions and not published opinions. As a rule, a memorandum decision would be briefer than a published opinion and would not have the same level of polish. However, even her memorandum decisions read like they were eligible to be submitted to a law review.

Jimmy Carter was a rare President who did not nominate any Supreme Court Justices. When The Greatest President of the Twentieth Century ran in 1980, he pledged to name a woman to the Supreme Court. Reagan had four criteria for his supreme court nominee, she had to be a woman, a lady, a Republican and a conservative. He got the first three right. The last, not so much.

I was no longer at the Court of Appeals when she was nominated. I had always known her as “Sandy O’Connor” or by her initials of “SDO.” Only after she was nominated, did I discover that her maiden name was “Day.” I went back to the Court after her nomination was announced and had the experience of standing in her chambers as numerous trial and appellate judges and attorneys visited her and congratulated her. She was gracious to a fault.

The Arizona Court of Appeals had long been overshadowed by the Arizona Supreme Court. We were so proud when the State Bar of Arizona’s next monthly “Arizona Attorney” had a picture of “The Judges of Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals” on its cover, with then Judge O’Connor sitting in the middle.

My attorney wife and I visited the Supreme Court a couple of times while Justice O’Connor served and met with her once. She happily posed for a picture with me, with the proviso that I not display the picture in public. We were given the “super-duper” tour of the Supreme Court for “personal friends of the justices.” My wife and I were shown to the “highest court in the land” a basketball court on the top floor, where she had organized jazzercise sessions for the female members of the court. We were allowed behind the bench and were shown the spittoons that the justices had at their feet, and it was noted that she was the first justice to have her spittoon removed.

As the biographers have noted, Justice O’Connor had three sons. What they have not noted is that after she had a granddaughter, she told friends that she did not know what she had been missing by only having sons, and she did all sorts of “girly” things with her granddaughter.

As I said earlier, I have differed with Justice O’Connor on her judicial philosophy, however, she was a classy and generous woman who I will never forget.

There are 15 comments.

  1. Freeven Member
    Freeven Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Gary Robbins: She happily posed for a picture with me, with the proviso that I not display the picture in public.

    Any idea why she was so adamant that the picture not be shared?

    • #1
    • October 24, 2018, at 2:59 PM PDT
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  2. PHCheese Member

     Very interesting Gary. Thanks for sharing this. My mother had dementia. It began at 75. She lived 12 years. SDO could be near her end. God bless her.

    • #2
    • October 24, 2018, at 3:14 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins

    Freeven (View Comment):

    Gary Robbins: She happily posed for a picture with me, with the proviso that I not display the picture in public.

    Any idea why she was so adamant that the picture not be shared?

    She wanted me to not use it for self-promotion. I kept my word to her.

    • #3
    • October 24, 2018, at 3:18 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito Contributor

    Gary Robbins: As the biographers have noted, Justice O’Connor had three sons. What they have not noted is that after she had a granddaughter, she told friends that she did not know what she had been missing by only having sons, and she did all sorts of “girly” things with her granddaughter.

    My mother had three sons only. She acquired some vicarious granddaughters a couple years back.

    These days she remarks on how lucky she was to only have boys. She doesn’t have much liking for tween girl drama.

    • #4
    • October 24, 2018, at 3:34 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. George Townsend Inactive

    Nice Post, Gary. It is good you can have such fond memories.

    Alzheimer’s is such an awful thing. I have a friend, whose Mom had several strokes, which led to Dementia. I don’t think it was Alzheimer’s. But she ended up not knowing her son-in-law, who Loved her. She even cursed at him. She never would have done such a thing but for her awful injury. I pray that Justice O’Connor can escape that fate.

    • #5
    • October 24, 2018, at 4:25 PM PDT
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  6. Buckpasser Member
    Buckpasser Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Good story Gary.

     

    My son was in the first class at Sandra Day O’Connor High School.

    • #6
    • October 24, 2018, at 5:54 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Stad Thatcher

    Gary Robbins: She happily posed for a picture with me, with the proviso that I not display the picture in public.

    Gee, my wife says the same thing.

    But seriously, I’m glad you had a chance to know her and work with her.

    Yes, too bad she wasn’t completely conservative on the Supreme Court, but in person? I bet she was awesome . . .

    • #7
    • October 25, 2018, at 11:25 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. RufusRJones Member

    Gary: I didn’t realize you worked for the government. Forgive me because I don’t know the timelines, but did you have any professional involvement in Evan Mecham’s impeachment or AZscam? That was such a wild place politically, back then.

     

    • #8
    • October 25, 2018, at 11:32 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Gary Robbins Reagan
    Gary Robbins

    RufusRJones (View Comment):

    Gary: I didn’t realize you worked for the government. Forgive me because I don’t know the timelines, but did you have any professional involvement in Evan Mecham’s impeachment or AZscam? That was such a wild place politically, back then.

    I just watched them roll forward. 

    Ev Mecham was facing criminal prosecution, recall and impeachment all at the same time. He was found not guilty in the criminal trial and he was impeached and convicted before he could be recalled.

    AZscam was something else. Wow. I still marvel when I drive by the office where they set up the sting.

    There was a great musical called “Gov: The Musical” about Arizona politics which lampooned Ev unmercifully. Very funny.

    • #9
    • October 25, 2018, at 1:23 PM PDT
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  10. Jim George Member

    Gary Robbins: As I said earlier, I have differed with Justice O’Connor on her judicial philosophy, however, she was a classy and generous woman who I will never forget.

    Gary, we had the amazing opportunity to meet Justice O’Connor when she was the guest of honor at an American Inns of Court luncheon in Washington; my lady and law partner, Judi, recalls vividly having a chance to talk with her in the receiving line and she became very animated when she learned we were from Baton Rouge and they wound up having a nice chat about how much she loved our food in South Louisiana! She was, to use @stad‘s word, awesome, and truly, as you put it, a very classy person. We remember her distinctive warmth and easy and friendly manner with everyone she met. Having seen the ravages of dementia in my own family, I felt a real hurt for her when the news came out. 

    Thanks for your post; it was a nice remembrance.

    Sincerely, Jim

     

    • #10
    • October 25, 2018, at 1:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. RufusRJones Member

    Thanks Gary. AZscam was glorious. Last time I looked the surveillance tapes were not on YouTube. LOL

    • #11
    • October 25, 2018, at 1:50 PM PDT
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  12. Jim George Member

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):
    There was a great musical called “Gov: The Musical” about Arizona politics which lampooned Ev unmercifully. Very funny.

    Gary, as a life long native of Louisiana (having recently a resident of Florida, just in time to vote against a Socialist and for a person I greatly admire, Ron DeSantis, for Governor of our new State!), I had long thought we had a monopoly on that kind of scandal! After all, in one Gubernatorial election which pitted the notorious Edwin Edwards, who was later a guest of the Federal Government for some time, against the execrable David Duke, many of us were driving around with bumper stickers which read: “Vote for the crook! It’s important!” These days, after Huey and Uncle Earl and Edwin, legislators are so honest Louisiana politics has become–who would have ever thought it possible?–boring! 

    • #12
    • October 25, 2018, at 2:43 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. RufusRJones Member

    I don’t recall if Evan Mechem was actually corrupt or just nuts, to be clear. 

    AZscam was just a work of art. They had trouble getting the FBI involved because it was so stupid. 

    • #13
    • October 25, 2018, at 2:53 PM PDT
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  14. Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito Contributor

    RufusRJones (View Comment):
    AZscam was just a work of art. They had trouble getting the FBI involved because it was so stupid. 

    See now, now I’m curious.

    As someone who’s only passed through the state of Arizona, you mind giving me a precis of what this thing was?

    • #14
    • October 25, 2018, at 2:58 PM PDT
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  15. RufusRJones Member

    Hank Rhody, Red Hunter (View Comment):

    RufusRJones (View Comment):
    AZscam was just a work of art. They had trouble getting the FBI involved because it was so stupid.

    See now, now I’m curious.

    As someone who’s only passed through the state of Arizona, you mind giving me a precis of what this thing was?

    Last time I looked, there wasn’t anything on the web about it, and my memory is not that great on this. I just remember the nutty surveillance videos. Someone figured out that there were a ton of legislators on both sides of the aisle that were open to bribery. I forget how. Some of these people were really obnoxious and confident on TV. It was ridiculous in retrospect. So anyway, they catch them on these videos being bribed and then they say all of this stupid stuff like they’re so wonderful (meaning the individual) and they are going to do all of this cool stuff with their money. I remember one person thought they were going to open up a recording studio or something. It was just crazy. These people are actual political peons and it totally went to their heads. It was just massively entertaining. 

    The FBI or whoever it was wouldn’t even get involved initially because they thought it was so silly. And then it just turned out to be massive. What a bunch of idiots. I think they all served time. 

    • #15
    • October 25, 2018, at 3:10 PM PDT
    • 1 like