Sunday, March 22, 2009

One Tough Cookie

Last August, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop for teachers taught by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, is a hero of mine from my high school days. Her politics are not nearly as liberal as mine, but her pragmatic, no-nonsense approach and Western outlook were incredibly appealing to me then (and now). When O'Connor joined the Court, I was a high school student and a young woman increasingly aware of the boundaries and limits society set for its girls and women. As the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court, I saw her appointment as a much-needed change and a sign of the progress girls and women would enjoy in my lifetime.

O'Connor is fiercely independent and though she doesn't call herself a feminist, she is keenly aware of the need for justice. In my view, her most important Supreme Court opinions (among them, Lawrence v. Texas and the University of Michigan affirmative action decision, Grutter v. Bollinger) have demonstrated her support for the powerful ideal of equal protection under the law. She puts it well in this interview in the New York Times magazine. I am unabashedly a feminist and I would guess that my willingness to embrace the title has to do with my age and generational identity; O'Connor may not call herself a feminist but she and I share a very similar worldview.

These days, as an active retired judge, O'Connor is at work on civics education, a subject dear to my heart as well. When I studied with her last summer, the focus of the workshop was to deepen our understanding of the importance of an independent Judiciary in the American federal system of checks and balances. She has since unveiled a website on that same topic. O'Connor's no-nonsense work on behalf of lasting ideas is a powerful testament to the very power of those ideas. I encourage y'all to check out her newest project,

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