"How Fortunate I Feel to Be an American and to Have Been Presented with the Remarkable Opportunities Available to the Citizens of Our Country"

A letter from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I'm sure most of you have heard the news in this letter by now, but I thought it worth passing along in its entirety, partly because I think it so well captures Justice O'Connor's attitude and voice:

Friends and fellow Americans,

I want to share some personal news with you.

Some time ago, doctors diagnosed me with the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer's disease. As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life. Since many people have asked about my current status and activities, I want to be open about these changes, and while I am still able, share some personal thoughts.

Not long after I retired from the Supreme Court twelve years ago, I made a commitment to myself, my family, and my country that I would use whatever years I had left to advance civic learning and engagement.

I feel so strongly about the topic because I've seen first-­?hand how vital it is for all citizens to understand our Constitution and unique system of government, and participate actively in their communities. It is through this shared understanding of who we are that we can follow the approaches that have served us best over time – working collaboratively together in communities and in government to solve problems, putting country and the common good above party and self-­?interest, and holding our key governmental institutions accountable.

Eight years ago, I started iCivics for just this purpose – to teach the core principles of civics to middle and high school students with free online interactive games and curriculum that make learning relevant and remarkably effective. Today, iCivics (www.icivics.org) reaches half the youth in our country. We must reach all our youth, and we need to find ways to get people – young and old – more involved in their communities and in their government. As my three sons are tired of hearing me say, "It's not enough to understand, you've got to do something." There is no more important work than deepening young people's engagement in our nation.

I can no longer help lead this cause, due to my physical condition. It is time for new leaders to make civic learning and civic engagement a reality for all. It is my great hope that our nation will commit to educating our youth about civics, and to helping young people understand their crucial role as informed, active citizens in our nation. To achieve this, I hope that private citizens, counties, states, and the federal government will work together to create and fund a nationwide civics education initiative. Many wonderful people already are working towards this goal, but they need real help and public commitment. I look forward to watching from the sidelines as others continue the hard work ahead.

I will continue living in Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by dear friends and family. While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life. How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our country. As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

I hope that I have inspired young people about civic engagement and helped pave the pathway for women who may have faced obstacles pursuing their careers. My greatest thanks to our nation, to my family, to my former colleagues, and to all the wonderful people I have had the opportunity to engage with over the years.

God bless you all.

NEXT: Maine Voters Prepare to Rank Their Congressional Candidates to Choose Winners

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I didn’t agree with a lot of her decisions, but she certainly set a good example by retiring from the court well before she reached her dotage.

    1. She sounds like a nationalist. Shame!

      1. Justice O’Connor was a Republican and conservative when many Republicans and conservatives — including Justice O’Connor — favored limited government, reason, competent government, tolerance, foreign humility, science, education, and progress.

    2. Indeed. RBG should draw a lesson from that. But won’t.

      1. O’Connor didn’t retire because of impending incapacity, she left to spend more time with her husband who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. RBG can’t learn that lesson because her husband has already passed away.

        1. There is something going on. She was always nuts so that isn’t it. But she can;t stay awake I think that’s new.

  2. She was an incredibly admirable woman. She was a childhood hero of mine, and one of the main reasons I became a lawyer. I appreciated that she chose to retire at a high point and carry on a worthy mission after her time on the Court. Her legacy will live for a very long time.

  3. A high school law course that included applications of the Lemon test was my first sense that legal analysis could be some fun.

    …I got better.

    1. Oops, wrong forum.

      O’Conner may well be the last Justice to be reasonable well liked by both sides.

      1. I agree. IMO it’s more an indictment of the sides than of the Justices.

        1. Interesting how that sort of thing can be grandfathered in. Demonization either takes a while (Ginsberg to the right) or only works if you get them as nominees (Thomas and Kavanaugh to the left)

  4. It’s a rather searing indictment of our rotten educational system that she thought it necessary to create a separate civics curriculum. It nicely complements the previous post on homeschooling, and, interestingly, O’Connor disagreed with dropping the strict scrutiny approach for religious liberty cases.

  5. Hate to be the bearer of bitchy tidings on this one, but Sandra Day is one of the “Infamous Five” who discovered the hitherto unknown “George Bush gets to be president and Al Gore doesn’t” clause* in the Constitution, a reminder that wearing a robe doesn’t make you just and wise on all occasions, as well as a reminder that the Constitution doesn’t contain all the solutions to all our problems.

    *Also known as the “Sandra Day O’Connor wants to retire and doesn’t want to be replaced by a Democrat” clause.

    1. Well, you ARE being a bearer of bitchy tidings, bitchy, partisan tidings.

    2. Wasn’t the decision whoever got the most votes is president, and as of now we are done counting? I suppose under some theories of the constitution the decision should have been we need to keep counting until Gore wins. But they tried that in the post mortem and Gore never did get the most votes did he?

      1. IIRC Gore won by 2 counting methods, Bush by the rest, and you don’t get to change counting methods after the vote to make your guy win.

        Also they just wanted to recount heavily Gore districts, which is statistically invalid because it may yield more votes for each candidate, but if Gore is pulling 2-1 there, for every new vote discerned for Bush, two will be for Gore, allowing him to relatively increase his totals vs. Bush. Regardless of the law, that part is scurrilous, and the whole state should be recounted, or nothing.

    3. Not true. They discovered a well known phrase in Article 1: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct“, and told the state supreme court that they weren’t the legislature, and thus weren’t entitled to revise the procedure for selecting electors.

      The procedure the legislature had set out had already found Bush to be the winner of the state, and allocated the state’s electors to him. The Supreme court just directed that the state supreme court cease its efforts to replace those electors.

      1. I thought only three Justices (Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas) made that conclusion, the actual holding was that the recounts ordered would violate the Equal Protection clause because there were no uniform standards in a manual recount to decide which votes to accept and which to reject?

        1. The a priori method of counting votes, and determining the voter’s intent, was a machine reading blinded to the name attached to any particular hole of a punch card.
          Any other method chosen after the machine count was complete, was surely intended to reach an alternative post hoc conclusion.
          Voters knew going into the booth what was expected, namely, to punch a hole in the card. One hole, not two, make a hole, not a faint impression on the cardstock. Really amazes me that the generation that grew up with punch cards from the 1950’s onward had the greatest difficulty with punch cards, whereas no twentysomething from that era (having never used punchcard computing) ever voiced finding difficulty.

    4. Does it hurt being that ignorant Alan?
      Or are you a Progressive serf that doesn’t believe in the Constitution and Rule of Law?

      1. I suspect Alan is a smug asshole, so, convinced that his ignorant opinion is a fact. Sadly, all to common an outcome of the shitty education system where one is taught ehat to think. Shorter: he’s not capable of introspection.

    5. Unfortunately Alan, you are ignorant of reality.

      The Dems tried to be cute and conduct selective recounts to drive a Gore win. Which put them up against Florida state law. If the Dems had immediately requested a full recount, there would have been no legal standing to argue against it. But they were stupid and spent their time focusing on select counties and the definition of hanging chads.
      What is absolutely appalling, is that any SCOTUS justice voted against this and the other 4 should have been ridiculed for their disgusting partisanship, which has had lastly implications for the divisiveness we have today. They were clearly pushing the scales against any rational legal reading. Appalling.

      What is really ironic, is that the recount continued anyway after the fact, and Bush gained votes. Gore never won even with the recount and the whole Dem talking point on this is a divisive fallacy that dolts like you buy into.

      1. Completely untrue on almost every count. You neocons have made bad faith arguments and misrepresented facts for so long, I don’t think you can even recognize your own dishonesty anymore. But carry on, I guess. Perhaps flagrant voter suppression and gerrymandering can keep you in political power for a few more years.

  6. It makes me sad I will never be able to live up to her example.

    1. She had her moments, but I think she was a cautionary tale about the dangers of putting politicians on the bench, she was often looking for compromises rather than principles. Her Grutter decision that affirmative action is constitutional now, but will be unconstitutional in 25 years is an example of where that leads.

      1. Considering it is a nine member court, forming consensus is part of the job. Masturbating in a one justice dissent that nobody pays attention to may be fun and make the person feel superior, but it doesn’t move the law.

        And to be clear, this was part of the original intention of the framers that the right claims to worship. They called for a multi-justice court and surely knew that meant that many decisions would be compromises.

        1. Not sure about the consensus/compromise things…

          We see quite a few strongly worded dissents, concur in part/dissent in part, and concur but with separate opinions.

          And what exactly would a justice be compromising on?

          “OK, I’ll give you this one but you have to vote with me next time.”

          Naw…that’s not right.

        2. “And to be clear, this was part of the original intention of the framers that the right claims to worship. They called for a multi-justice court and surely knew that meant that many decisions would be compromises.”

          Clearly. Which is why the original procedures used by the Supreme Court involved each justice writing separately for each case, with no single opinion being the official opinion of the Court.

      2. Her bigger flaw as a jurist was setting up multi-factor balancing tests as an “algorithm” for deciding issues. The problem is that those tests tend not to give much in the way of decisive and objective criteria.

  7. One can be a great person–one can even be even an American hero, like Thurgood Marshall–and still be a substandard SCOTUS justice

  8. she has class. It’s a shame there isn’t more around DC.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.