On this day in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed as the first female justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. She was approved by the Senate with a vote of 99-0. Could you ever imagine that happening today? To begin with, there is no way a Republican president would ever nominate someone like her. At last week’s debate, Ted Cruz was complaining about ultra-conservative John Roberts being on the Court. According to Cruz, Roberts is some kind of liberal because he hasn’t decided everything exactly the way that Cruz thinks is correct. It’s a good example of what a movement conservative defines as a liberal: “not a movement conservative.” Of course, John Roberts is a movement conservative and has moved the law far to the right on really important issues like voter rights.
Anyway, what I find most interesting about O’Connor is the way she left the Supreme Court. She wanted to leave because her husband was ill. She asked William Rehnquist if he was planning to retire. He said no, so she retired. And then Rehnquist died. So George W Bush got to appoint two justices: one, the aforementioned ultra-conservative John Roberts — the other the reactionary Samuel Alito, who took O’Connor’s spot. I wonder how that sits with her to have been replaced by such an anti-feminist as Alito. O’Connor was conservative in a broad sense, but in the context of today, she has to be seen as a moderate — especially when it comes to women’s rights. Allowing Alito on the Court effectively destroyed all the good she ever did on the Court.
But this day 34 years ago was a special one with great meaning to the nation. We now have three women on the Court. All of them were appointed by Democrats, of course. The only female I can image Republicans nominating in the next 20 years would be someone like Janice Rogers Brown — who wants to take us back to Lochner v New York. I’m sure that if Republicans could find a woman to spout crazy enough things, they’d love to nominate her. But that can be hard. And the crazy ideas come first.
Sandra Day O’Connor would never make the cut.