The Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, will discuss her new book The Majesty of the Law (Random) as guest of the Kentucky Author Forum May 14, 2003, in Louisville.
The first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, O’Connor was born on March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas. She was raised on the Arizona-New Mexico border on a ranch called Lazy B, the title of her recent autobiography. The isolated ranch provided childhood adventure with horses and cattle but was 22 miles from the nearest school, requiring a commute beginning before daylight and returning in the dark. Consequently, her parents sent her to El Paso to live with her grandmother and attend school.
O’Connor laid the foundation for her later success at Stanford University, majoring in economics, earning a bachelor of arts degree with honors in 1950. She went on to law school at Stanford, graduating third in a class of 102 and serving as editor of the Stanford Law Review. The top-ranked student was future Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Another student in a class below her was John Jay O’Connor; the two married soon after her graduation in 1952.
Because many firms were reluctant to hire a female attorney, O’Connor accommodated her career to the demands of family in the early years of her marriage. Active in civic affairs, including a stint as district chair in the Republican Party, she raised three sons in the Phoenix, Arizona area.
Becoming known as a bright, hard worker, O’Connor joined state government in 1965 as assistant attorney general, where she served until 1969 when the governor appointed her to a vacant seat in the Arizona Senate. She won elections in 1970 and 1972, becoming majority leader in 1972 as a Republican.
Switching careers, O’Connor won election as a judge on the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1974. Gaining a reputation for being tough and fair, she remained politically active, backing Ronald Reagan in his attempt to take the 1976 nomination from President Gerald Ford. In 1979, she won appointment to Arizona’s Court of Appeals and started to gain national attention with her views supporting state judgments in judicial issues.
Reagan made his historic Supreme Court appointment of O’Connor in 1981, fulfilling a promise he made to address the criticism of his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment in 1980. Known as a conservative, O’Connor also showed independence on the bench.
In The Majesty of the Law, O’Connor chronicles the history, people, and landmark cases that have helped to shape American law and the Supreme Court, offering an insider’s view of life on the Court. She also explores the turbulent battle women have faced in the legal system, and candidly offers her thoughts on many of the challenges facing the courts and the legal profession.
Justice O’Connor was interviewed at Kentucky Author Forum by Pete Williams, NBC News Justice Correspondent. Williams came to Washington in 1986 as a legislative assistant and press secretary to Congressman Dick Cheney of Wyoming. In 1989, when Cheney was named Secretary of Defense, Williams was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. He has covered the Justice Department and the Supreme Court for NBC News since 1993.