Book Corner 2020.36


First: Sandra Day O’Connor

You know when there is no Book Corner for a while, I’m reading something heavy.  Either that, or sampling around and unable to settle on anything.  This time it was was something relatively heavy.

I’m afraid the first half of her life dragged for me – too much detail. And Thomas seems to emphasize especially in the first half her conservative, “Junior League,” “family-first” demeanor; when I looked up an interview with her on You Tube to remind myself how she really looked and talked, her directness and sharpness came as a stark contrast to the Sandra he had depicted for me.

The book picked up and things started swinging when she joined the Supremes. The copious detail was now welcome rather than tedious.

I already knew the sad ending to her story, having read Jeffrey Toobin’s THE NINE years ago, but it was even more heart-wrenching to read here. In short, O’Connor left the court while still in her prime, with her husband succumbing to Alzheimer’s, for both love of and duty towards him. Within months, he sunk lower than what she could deal with alone. She had to put him in a home. Top it off, her longtime friend (and sometime college boyfriend!), Chief Justice William Rehnquist, passed away around the same time.

While she would never again be as powerful a figure, in such a challenging and rewarding and influential a role, as she was as an active SCOTUS Justice, O’Connor succeeded for a while in finding true fulfilment spearheading efforts to teach civics to middle school children. You can still see the fruits of her labor online at Today, Justice O’Connor is still with us, 90 years old as of this writing (born 1930), but suffering dementia herself.

Sad all around. But admire her for her never-ending drive and her pragmatic jurisprudence. In stark contrast to Justices Scalia and Alito, who believed that law should be treated like a catechism, O’Connor seemed to realize that we are all “just muddling along,” in the words of one of her clerks quoted here. “It was, wait a minute, we’re not doing this as an intellectual exercise. We’re doing this to run society. It’s just us people running things.”

Try to take heart that we had people like Sandra Day O’Connor “running things” for a while, and could one day again.  )

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