SCOTUS Cowgirl Sandra Day O’Connor

OK, so enough of the images of dudes with mustaches.  Did anyone hear this interview on Fresh Air with Arizona’s Sandra Day O’Connor last week?  Man, she’s a tough cowgirl, ain’t she?  Half the time I was thinking, “what a jerk,” but the other half of the time I was thinking, “now that’s a real western woman.” Plenty of attitude, and no deference whatsoever to Miss Terry Gross.  I mean, none, even though her publicist surely booked her on Fresh Air to let Miss Terry Gross help her sell some damn books, right?  It’s not like Fresh Air showed up at the ranch uninvited.

(Whereas you know that if I ever get invited to be on Miss Terry Gross’s show, I’d be as slobbering and deferential as a Golden Retriever.  Sandra Day O’Connor treats Miss Terry Gross like an irritating college intern in this interview!  But Miss Terry Gross knows that there’s a big difference between Sandra Day O’Connor, for example, and your garden-variety douchehats like Bill O’Reilly or Gene Simmons, so she’s very good-humored about it all.)

I can’t help but feel sad for SDO.  She retired from the court because she wanted to care for her ailing husband, who had Alzheimer’s disease.  But by the time she left the court in 2006, he had to be institutionalized anyway.  (And then there’s that whole Bush v. Gore travesty that she knows will only tarnish her legacy.  Boy, it must stink to be on the wrong side of history, but then you wouldn’t let Mr. Wrong Side nominate your successor, would you?)

I think the only way to go on the SCOTUS is to die with your boots on.  Brooklyn, NY-born Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, just might turn out to be the toughest cowgirl of them all.

10 thoughts on “SCOTUS Cowgirl Sandra Day O’Connor

  1. I haven’t listened to the interview — will download it for a walk some time — but I’ve always thought that the touching thing was that in the nursing home, her husband “fell in love” with another woman… O’Connor took this in stride, saying that she was glad he was happy. (And really, in Alzheimer’s happy is a gift, as people can get really hostile.)

    My mother had one encounter with O’Connor, in a situation where they were both Episcopal lay women among a lot of mostly male clergy. O’Connor, she said, was the only person in the room who saw and argued against the power play that was going on against her. I suspect those years as a marginalized woman lawyer gave her insight!


  2. O’Connor is very insightful–which is why her claims that she doesn’t have anything to say about past SCOTUS decisions ring so hollow.

    TR: you are right about the hair on her chest, too. That chemo tip is a doozy–I’m not nearly so tough or hardworking as either of those women. Not by a longshot! (I read that story & also heard Toobin on Fresh Air last week too. When Terry Gross told him that SDO said she had no regrets about leaving the court or about Bush v. Gore, he said he knows better. “Does she have regrets? YOU BET SHE DOES,” is what he said. But I also get it why she can’t be bellyachin’ about that in public and for the record.)

    nicoleandmaggie: I wonder if the difference between SDO on Fresh Air and The Daily Show was that she could have done the FA interview remotely, whereas on TDS she would have met and talked and joked with JS before the show. That, plus the fact that it’s harder to diss someone to his face than if he’s not in the room with you. James Surowiecki has an interesting column in this week’s New Yorker called “Face Time,” about telecommuting v. working in the office. He says that people in the office are much more productive, creative, and moreover, people who have met in person trust each other more than teams who work remotely.

    This is also something to keep in mind as we face the great Online Ed Bubble.


  3. I’ve watched the DS interview–I think Terry Gross was a much tougher interview (appropriately so). She asks about specific decisions, while JS’s questions were much more general. Overall, she seems very much the same person in both interviews, but it’s the difference in the purpose and the format of the shows that makes the difference.

    JS defuses SDO’s canny refusal to answer some of his questions by mugging–appropriately so–and so turns her politician-like answers into jokes on himself and his own impudence. This serves both JS and SDO very well–but it’s obvs. not a move that TG could make on her show.


  4. Historiann – I thought it was just me who thought that interview must have been incredibly uncomfortable for Terry Gross. Like you I was of two minds about it. There were many instances when I would think, “Wow, that’s a jerky answer,” or a jerky way to answer, i.e. with a single word (there were so many of those!) and also think, almost simultaneously, “You know, that WAS kind of a silly question.” The question about the inadequate restroom facilities at the Supreme Court once she joined it is one that comes to mind. SDO is not about the bull*@#! or, as you say, about spending time looking backward and letting the whole world know about it.


  5. The shock doctrine begins – and guess who’s in charge of appropriations that could relieve oversubscribed courses?

    “Legislation will be introduced in the California Senate on Wednesday that could reshape higher education by requiring the state’s public colleges and universities to give credit for faculty-approved online courses taken by students unable to register for oversubscribed classes on campus.

    If it passes, as seems likely, it would be the first time that state legislators have instructed public universities to grant credit for courses that were not their own — including those taught by a private vendor, not by a college or university.

    “We want to be the first state in the nation to make this promise: No college student in California will be denied the right to move through their education because they couldn’t get a seat in the course they needed,” said Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the Senate, who will introduce the bill. “That’s the motivation for this.” ”


  6. One more thing – after hearing the interview I saw a tweet from Audie Cornish saying that reading the transcript gives you a dramatically different impression of the interview than listening to it does. I assumed she meant the transcript didn’t convey the incredible awkwardness of the interview, and then I immediately thought, “Is that possible?” I would think the transcript would make it seem worse, if that’s possible.


  7. cgeye beat me to it in reporting on this one. At the risk of abandoning ship on republican government altogether, I’m beginning to think that elected legislative bodies should have to be separately certified as to specific competences, absent which they would be barred from practicing their craft in those particular areas. And these C+/- lawmaker-losers are surely not certifiable to “instruct” anybody on anything, even if they are constitutionally entitled to ordain whatever they choose to ordain. Let’s turn the black helicopter “accreditor” agencies that descend on campuses with the “next time we come here we need to see you doing [X]” loose on state capitals with the new soundbyte: “You might as well disband your Committee on Dams, Bridges, and Rivers,” because we’re revoking your authority to legislate on those subjects for ten years. Then there would be some wailing and gnashing of teeth, and donning of sackcloth and ashes…

    Or, we could just run up the white flag on MOOCS for Mooks and apply the California model even more widely. Every state could be directed to grant a bachelor’s degree to each of its citizens on their 18th birthday. Their Departments of Health could be directed to issue, (via, an official cancer-free diagnosis to every inhabitant forty-five years and over, renewable twice for seven year periods. With education and health issues thus resolved, the public polities could go looking for other problems to fix by writ of mandamus.

    Sorry if this rant oversteps the thread-relevance guideline, but I’ve been steaming about this one all morning, and I peg it hopefully to the reference to the “great Online Ed bubble,” above.


  8. I guess California is really committed to trashing its once-great universities. Awesome!!!

    ellemarie: I agree with you that the restroom question was kind of silly. But, really? They didn’t have women staff or clerks until 1981 either? Nina Totenberg never had to take a leak when reporting on the court? Come on.

    True story: I taught as an ABD in a department that was housed in a former dorm. The women’s room was a recently-refurbished men’s room–but I guess it wasn’t really “refurbished” as it still had a urinal in it!

    I think Miss Terry Gross was taken aback by SDO’s refusal to engage a lot of her questions, and it was that affect that made the interview so awkward to hear. Most guests on Fresh Air who are 1) trying to sell a book, and 2) have a (scandalous?) past that might be more interesting than the book they’re shilling prepare answers to the awkward questions they might get. I didn’t get the impression that SDO had thought much about how she could deflect interviewers who wanted to talk about the 5-4 decisions in which she played a key role.


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