Sandra Day O’Connor: Class Dismissed … and Inspired

For those of us who love the law, what’s best about it is how it is always developing, changing, adding data points like dots in a pointillistic picture. For those of us with a career in the law, staying engaged with – and curious about – theory and policy and societal progress transform a 30- or 40- or 50-year occupation into a passion.

Sandra Day O'ConnorI’ve been trying to get my students to drink the “legal education is fascinating for its own sake” Kool-Aid for going on 14 years now. Last night, speaking in a Constitution Day program at the University of Colorado Boulder Law School, Sandra Day O’Connor got that message across in about an hour.

Perhaps it was her obvious engagement with ongoing legal issues, even though she retired from the U.S. Supreme Court over seven years ago. Perhaps it was her sharp wit when she talked about shaking Byron “Whizzer” White’s hand – and almost screaming out in pain – on the first Monday of October, way back in 1981. Perhaps it was her reflection on how enduring the Constitution has been and how crucial to our society she hopes it will continue to be.

Or perhaps it was the fact that – though she was walking with a cane, signaling that her mobility is less “there” than it once was – this 83-year-old American icon was thinking and speaking and responding to questions about the law with 100 percent of her faculties. And when she told law students to take every opportunity to learn about their chosen field, to learn to express themselves, to soak it all in, they listened intently.

Some say that, when you’re doing what you love, you don’t notice the years go by. Justice O’Connor had the audience in the palm of her hand for a full hour last night, and not because she was the first woman on the Supreme Court. No, it was because she was still, 32 years after the great day in September when she donned a justice’s robes and swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States, thinking hard about how the rule of law affects us all.

 

Photo: The Aspen Institute/Flickr

 

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