Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor says her rulings on the nation’s highest court are being “dismantled” by a more right-leaning court.
Speaking at the College of William and Mary’s annual Supreme Court Preview, the former justice told her audience that she’s “disappointed” with the direction the court has taken.
O’Connor was considered to be a centrist on the court. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 as the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court bench. O’Connor retired in 2006, and President George W. Bush replaced her with Justice Samuel Alito, who is considered to be more conservative in his rulings.
Asked how she felt about the court overturning some of her decisions, O’Connor said: “What would you feel? I’d be a little bit disappointed. If you think you’ve been helpful, and then it’s dismantled, you think, ‘Oh, dear.’ But life goes on. It’s not always positive.”
It was a rare moment of candor for a Supreme Court alum. Justices, current or former, rarely comment publicly on the court’s political leanings.
“Sandra Day O’Connor’s subtle shot at the Roberts court should become blogosphere catnip today,” commented MSNBC’s First Read blog.
O’Connor has recently been speaking out about what she perceives as problems with the US justice system. Two weeks ago, she made the news when she said the practice of electing judges, as is the case in about a dozen states, harms the judicial process.
“It’s the flood of money coming into our courtrooms,” the Associated Press quoted O’Connor as saying to a University of Seattle audience. “You haven’t suffered too much of this in Washington — but you will, if you don’t think about this and change it.”
At her College of William and Mary speech this past weekend, O’Connor said that the presence of two women on the Supreme Court — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Sonia Sotomayor — “is not enough.”
“We need more” women on the bench, the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted her as saying.
O’Connor went on the offensive about US education as well, describing Americans as “pretty ignorant” about their justice system. “Just some minute percent of the people can name a single Supreme Court justice, but some 80 percent can name at least two judges on American Idol,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor is leading a new education program called Our Courts, designed to “teach students civics and inspire them to be active participants in our democracy,” according to the program’s Web site.