Skip to main content

tv   Sandra Day O Connor - First Woman on Supreme Court  CSPAN  October 19, 2019 10:45pm-12:01am EDT

10:45 pm
learn about its rich history. to watch more video from toledo and other stops, visit american history tv come all weekend, every weekend come on c-span3. >> in 1981, president ronald reagan nominated sandra day o'connor to be the first woman to serve on the supreme court, next on american history tv, panelists including one of discuss theons factors and qualifications that led to her appointment. this talk was part of an all-day conference commemorating the 30th anniversary of o'connor's senate confirmation. the ronald reagan presidential foundation and institute hosted the event. [applause] >> good afternoon. my name is john.
10:46 pm
i have the honor of being executive director of the ronald reagan presidential foundation and institute. thank you for coming out. honor of our in men and women in uniform who defend our freedom around the world, please stand and join me for the pledge of allegiance. [in unison] >> i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america and to the republic for which it stands one nation, under god, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. >> john: thank you, please be seated. -- john: thank you, please be seated. 1988 whenl of president ronald reagan broke ground at the sight of his future presidential library, i'm
10:47 pm
not sure he could have imagined that his foundation would one day also be operating a robust institute in washington dc, one just steps from the white house he would soon leave behind for his beloved homeland ranch in the west. , i do know that today's celebration honoring justice sandra day o'connor is exactly the type of gathering in his name that he envisioned. intrinsically links president reagan and justice o'connor, and it is an honor and privilege for the reagan foundation and institute to host this forum. before we begin our celebration, i would like to express gratitude to our friends in the room who still carry the flame of our 40th president, and those who share a deep love and admiration for our first woman
10:48 pm
on the supreme court. first, thanks to the o'connor family for joining us on this historic day. thanks as well to our partners who share in our civic mission and who have helped us craft our afternoon, npr, absent, dunn and crutcher, the aspen institute, the supreme court and the library of congress. [applause] the force behind today's event is a longtime member of the reagan foundation's board of trustees, a partner at ibsen dunn andibson,
10:49 pm
crutcher, ted olson. ted served as solicitor general .f the u.s. from 2001-2004 prior to that he served as assistant attorney general and the office of legal counsel at the justice department during the reagan administration from 1981-1984, and as i've it counsel to president reagan during his second term. 's commitment to the principles of equality, liberty and justice not only served alsodent reagan, but helped him carry his legacy into the 21st century. led tois leadership that today' is worthy celebration of justice o'connor. ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming to the stage mr. ted olson. [applause]
10:50 pm
ted: thank you, john. and thank everyone of you for being here. everyone that has been involved in this is very, very excited, and we are full of anticipation. 38is an honor to be with you years to the day after sandra day o'connor took her seat as the first woman to serve on the supreme court of the united states. our constitution was adopted september 17, 1787. created,nment had including the supreme court -- it's created, including the supreme court, began functioning in 1789. nearly 200 years later, on this justice sandra day
10:51 pm
o'connor became the 102nd and first female supreme court justice. think about that for a moment. it took nearly two centuries to put the first woman on the united states supreme court. i was privileged to be in court that day. president reagan was there, members of the cabinet, senators , representatives, justices, and members of the prussian public -- the press and public watched as a commission signed by president reagan, and the oath of office was administered by the chief justice. o'connor was escorted to the bench and took her seat. it was a special, emotional moment, and i feel emotion talking about it, but much too long in coming. justice o'connor served for 25 years on the supreme court with understandingeen
10:52 pm
of the constitution and of the american people, compassion, andght, wisdom, grace dignity. she had spent her early years on a100 98,000 acre cattle ranch in arizona. 198,000 acre cattle ranch in arizona. and she was the last justice, i believe this is correct, to serve in elected office and as a state appeals court judge. as a justice, she had a shar p, incisive sense of humor, and instinct for the evan of point in cases that came before her, and a passion for preparation. hers was often the first question asked during oral argument. i had the privilege of arguing a number of cases before her, and i was very careful every time to
10:53 pm
try to be ready for that first question. was nothe lawyer who prepared, fumbled, or responded with evasion. it did not work. she zeroed in like a laser beam, and you did not get away. about 11 months ago, justice o'connor wrote to the american people informing us of the progression of dementia, and that she had to step back from public life. it was devastating to read that this terrible disease was robbing her and robbing us of that unstoppable mind. 25 years ago, president reagan wrote to the american people in much the same way. the announced that he was "thening what he called, journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."
10:54 pm
justice o'connor is on that same, tragic, sunset journey, which is why we at the reagan institute were moved to organize a celebration of her legacy. how we wish she were here, but how grateful we are that she was a brilliant, perfect pioneer on our highest court, and that we can celebrate her while she still enjoys the company of family back home in arizona, a place where the sunsets are among the most beautiful in the world. tong with other things celebrate, we honor her as a bridge builder, an idea she reflected on it a stanford 2004 commencement address, just days after the passing of president reagan. she told the students that one of the most important bridges that ronald reagan built was a bridge to equality, one that made it possible for a wide range of willing americans to
10:55 pm
build their own bridges as public servants. she, of course, was referring in part to her own nomination. today we are fortunate to welcome many of the people who have crossed that bridge that justice o'connor built throughout her career, from former clerks to sitting justices of the united states supreme court, and many others. they will tell us about who this incredible woman was, how she was raised on that ranch in arizona, how she developed into jurisprudential pioneer to be the first of her gender to sit on the supreme court, what it was like for her to some mount the barriers -- to surmount the barriers she so gracefully overcame, so i welcome you to this celebration and thank our outstanding moderators and speakers. this will be a lovely, happy
10:56 pm
day. thank you. [applause] narrator: ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a bridge builder and celebrating justice sandra day o'connor. please welcome the executive director of the ronald reagan presidential foundation and .nstitute, john
10:57 pm
>> [inaudible] [laughter] [applause] [inaudible] >> the first panel, i just want to say i covered the court. intarted covering the court and, so i had the joy privilege of covering sandra day o'connor's time on the court. to my far left is evan thomas, author of 10 books including a biography of sandra day o'connor. jayis immediate right,
10:58 pm
board of thethe civics project justice o'connor, transformational civics project she brought to children in this country, and to my immediate left, edwin meets meese iii, he served as attorney general of the u.s. from 1985-1980 eight. please join me in welcome the -- welcoming this extraordinary panel. [applause] i have the absolute joy of setting the table for the rest of the day and getting a sense of what it was like through the o'connor'sf justice to the which brought her
10:59 pm
attention of president reagan, and then the world. we are going to try to break it down for you in the coming hour, herstart by talking about outstanding biography in arizona, her time on the arizona state legislature, and we will close with a conversation about her confirmation. as a point of personal privilege, and again because it i the theme of this panel, started stanford law school in i can sayf 1992, and without a doubt, i would not have gone to law school but for knowing that sandra day o'connor had gone before me. and i say that i say it because i really wonder often if justice o'connor knows how many tens and thousands of young women took steps they would not have otherwise done but for her leadership and
11:00 pm
modeling. so it's a particular honor to be in this conversation today. thent to start at -- at ranch where it all started. and justice o'connor so often says she is such a creature of that upbringing at the lazy b ranch. the tableou could set for us a little bit. give us a sense of how that upbringing, we've all heard some of the stories, but that upbringing reflects on the person that sandra day o'connor because. mr. thomas: the lazy b is enormous. 160,000 acres. took a man on horseback a whole day ro ride across it. -- to ride across it. 2000 cows.
11:01 pm
beautiful. the day family. mr. day. sandra day o'connor said we called it our own country. the king was mr. day, who was a magnificent man. a great, more than a cowboy, he was a manager of cowboys. could fix anything, handle anything, deal with anything and he taught self-reliance to his daughter and to anybody who was around him and the story she liked to tell, sandra liked to tell, was when sandra day was 15 her one of her jobs was to take lunch to the roundup which was ray across the prairie. and loadedat 5 a.m. up the truck. as she headed out there she had a flat tire. she is a slight girl. she had to jump on the jack to change the tire. she got there and her father looked at her, you are late. she said, dad, i had a flat
11:02 pm
tire. he said, next time leave earlier. that was the story she told her clerks. the message was pretty clear, no excuses. get it done. obviously mr. day had a huge influence on her and he was a loving, powerful father. he could be an intimidating guy. sandra's mother was maybe even more important because mrs. day woman, out onnt ranch, subscribe to "vogue." mr. day could be a little tough on her in the evening, could be a little bit of a buly. ly. him wasshe dealt with not by being submissive and not by rolling over but also not by getting into stupid fights. and she had a way, a graceful
11:03 pm
way of finessing things and walking away from stupid f ights, knowing when to engage and when not to come and sandra watched her mother and father and i think that was an incredibly valuable lesson for her on how to deal with difficult situations. when people do not always get along. but when not to take the bait. that was a big thing for her. jay, if you want to amplify a little bit the ways in which she was just entirely a product of that biographical setting, that she really was in some sense quintessentially, she think throughout played so deeply to this persona she had of just being utterly independent, someone for whom i very as evan said was feminine but also extremely tough. and not apt to be intimidated by anyone.
11:04 pm
had she been born in connecticut, which she have been a completely different person? jay: i think she would have been. she herself saw the lazy b as foundational to who she was. she loved the lazy b. she ended up as a schoolgirl, the closest town 30 miles away wasn't a great school. so, her parents decided we have got to send her away to school and she went to school in el paso, texas, with her grandmother and aunt. she stayed with them and she went to school with her cousin. and she missed the ranch terribly. would always love spending time there. and the ranch, you're so, help is 30 miles away and even in the town they probably do not have the parts you need. problems will happen on the ranch. things break. problems happen. what she learned as evan
11:05 pm
described already is that when problems have have to deal with them in a very pragmatic way. expert't rely on some to save the day because that maybe way too long. you cannot wait for weeks. you had to result with just the people at the ranch. fix things yourself. if you're out alone you have to fix things by yourself. i think that was foundational to her persona. i think the other part, she grew up in the depression era. you know, times were thin. you never never throw anything away. she was definitely a product of her environment and her generation. >> i wonder if you could take us fairly quickly just to the educational piece of this, because that again, i think, the notion that she was going to law soool was at some level, we
11:06 pm
internalized it that way was incredibly improbable. to stanfordshe went in 1946 with a lot of veterans. guys in bomber jackets were glad to be alive. she loved stanford. she said, it's utopia. because they have this wonderful course there called western civilization. i read her final exam when she was a 17-year-old freshman and it is a brilliant exegesis on madison and jefferson, and you can see her appreciation of the rule of a law as a 17-year-old. talk about foundations. she was very independent-minded. at stanford you go to law school after three years. she had a b plus, average, which she did, she had great grades. the story i always remember was that she, there's a parking lot and she went out and her dad gave her car. she painted a parking space for
11:07 pm
herself. her parking space. school. to the law one of five women in her class. law review. losapply to 40 law firms in angeles and san francisco. she got one interview. rutcher.son, dunn and c they asked her how well did you type? she said, so-so. she love to tell that story up course. she was never bitter about it. didn't make it in the private sector so she went to a local d.a. she said i will do it for free. he said, i do not have a place for you. i'll work off your secretary's desk, and she did. she mastered that. had a brief sojourn in the private sector in phoenix a couple of years later, but, you
11:08 pm
know, she, ok, she can't make it in the private sector the public sector worked well for her. >> i have to turn this over to general mays because he told me something that cracked me up. what would've happened had given -- gibson, dunn and crutcher, given her the job. mr. meese: she probably would be retired lawyer from gibson and crutcher living out her retirement and never would have achieved a remarkable -- she did in the supreme court. >> that was a bracing reminder to me of why that story works out in the end, because i've told in a much more grumpy fashion until you corrected me. onegoing to ask evan to do more thing, which is you are going to have to talk about the relationship between sandra day o'connor and chief justice
11:09 pm
renquist, whe because that was an intriguing part of your research. had access to i the o'connor family, to her parents because we were looking for love letters because john and sandra had a great marriage, a true, lifelong loving romance. we're going to the papers and there are not any love letters. we went into her chambers at the supreme court and her secretary took us down to a storage clause oset. and there was a box marked correspondence. and there were love letters between john and sandra in the book. but there were also 14 love letters from william rehnquist to saturday. william rehnquist and sanded thera day were classmates. he was number one in the class.
11:10 pm
they went out first year. the story they told always was we went to the movies a few times. it was actually a little bit more than that. >> double feature. [laughter] and, bill rehquist's third year, he got a job as a supreme court clerk with justice stevens, justice jackson. and he was lonely. he started writing sandra and remembering their romance. about letter seven, he said, sandy, will you marry me? when i took that letter of the box i gave a little yelp. they had not told her own families. blackmun,s, justice he sat next to justice rehnquist when sandra came in the court,
11:11 pm
blackmun turned to justice rehnquist and said, no fooling around. basically nobody knew. and the sweet thing about this is they ended up having a great friendship. yes, sandra turned them down. she strung him along for a little while but she did turn him down in a gentlemen. way. they both married the loves of their lives. they had a very quiet but real french up at the court. -- friendship at the court. justice rehnquist quietly lobbied the reagan administration or at least the attorney general to put her on the court. ani feel i need to give jay opportunity to respond if he wants to respond. how was it find out that your mom had a love letter from justice rehnquist? jay: i'm sure my dad knew morea
11:12 pm
bout the relationship. that wasn't something she would have hidden from my dad, but she never disclosed it to her three sons. evan, called up and said i found some interesting letters. so, we were definitely surprised. she had handle that very quietly. >> and jay, i think i want to stay with you. >> the think it was interesting to us is what we had seen with, uh, chief justice with her relationship with the rehnquist family is they were devoted friend for such a long time and throughout their, before their tenure on the court, after what evan talked about happened, his family traveled with my mom's family on some trips. they had the basis for a long-standing friendship that endured throughout the time of the court and later on . they spent a lot of time together with one another's familiesi in ,dd.c.
11:13 pm
so, there was a really wonderful, initially interesting relationship that turned into a warm, professional relationship and a close friendship over the years. >> i nkow this is not the panel -- i know this is not the panel we will talk about doctrine but i think this could be the panel where we talk about work ethics. int as we turn to her time the arizona legislature, i wonder if you could just talk to the extent that you have recollections of what it was like to be raised by someone who by every account was a juggernaut, was just nonstop energizer bunny, go, go, go. i remember the first stories i heard about her was having kids in strollers running around doing legal work and doing political work. that's all true, right? jay: absolutely. she is a force of nature, no doubt. so, she was in arizona. she worked in all three branches
11:14 pm
of government. she was clearly the best known woman in the state of arizona in the government. and started off in the attorney general's office. became the majority leader of the state senate, was the first woman in the country to hold that position. and then went on to become a state court judge. we knew her as mom. and the famous line is she would have these long work sessions at the, at the state senate and one of her colleagues said with sandra day o'connor there is no miller time. she would go from long hours and do one thing and she was constantly in motion. she would come home from a very demanding job, and she ran the family. she was responsible for overseeing the household and getting our dinner done. and organizing our camps and our activities and her way when she got home, she did not sit down and hang out.
11:15 pm
she would go home and be productive. her way of relaxing was by going and playing on the weekends two or three sets of tennis and then 18 holes of golf. we were exhausted. we never got rest until she went off to washington, think god. >> i'm really exhausted just by hearing that account. but i wonder, evan, would you amplify a little bit and then i am going to ask general needs the same question, but that time on the arizona legislature was absolutely. formative i wonder if you could talk a little bit about how she got herself there but help us understand what that did to help vault her into what would become the next thing. mr. thomas: there are a couple of stories about her in the legislature that are revealing. one is that she had to deal with, the arizona legislator in
11:16 pm
1970. there was a lot of drinking, men misbehaving and she had to deal with that. she was the majority leader. first woman ever to be the majority leader of a state senate. to get the budget passed, she had to deal with the house appropriations committee chairman. tom goodwin. tom goodwin was a drunk by 10 a.m. he was just impossible to deal with. sh finally called him on hise drinking. he looked at her and said if you are a man i would punch you in the nose. she said, if you were a man, you could. i like to tell that story. it's a one off. she did not go around having confrontations, putting down men. that is a funny story but that is pretty singular. far more often, she just learned not to be baited, not to take it bait, not to get into stupid fights, to get to the point, she
11:17 pm
was very efficient. had a thick skin. she was very politically shrewd. this is the second story, very revealing. the equal rights amendment in 1972 was, for a while almost noncontroversial. it was in the republican platform and the democratic platform in 1968 but by the mid-70's it had become controversial and it was making its way to the states, ratified in many states but still -- phyllis schlafly was running a campaign against it. and so, it comes to arizona. majority leader o'connor introduces the era to the arizona legislature, introduces it. then lets it die in committee. the activists were furious at her. what the hell are you doing? you are the majority leader. she ketpett quiet,.
11:18 pm
she realized he could not has. was not going to pass the arizona legislator. emotional,big virtuous signaling show when something is not going to pass? instead, she use her powers to amend every single law in the state of arizona that discriminated against women. there were many of them about owning credit cards, owning property. 8 hour law in 1970, work week, was discriminatory to women. she had a list. she made a list of all of the laws. one by one. some short measures and some in full measure. she did what she could. she achieved what she could in the state and let the other thing past on. >> i love that story, because i think it is such a quintessentially pragmatic thing to do. and i think that, for me, that
11:19 pm
with such a stunning revelation about you don't always know what you do not know. i wonder, general mays, if you could answer a version of the same question when we spoke on the phone to prepare for this you noted she was the last person to have served in a legislature. had anyone subsequently who brings that skill set to the court. you got to know more after but can you talk a little bit about some of the skills she took away from that time, and the ways in which it became applicable in her later life? i what you to explain why it is important to have a former legislator on the supreme court. mr. meese: there's two things. one was her personal relationships. we learned those being in a governmental body of people who all have very strong egos. the most charitable way of
11:20 pm
putting it. gettinge's a way of along with those people and making progress and adding something done. and she certainly, i think, probably had that from an early stage from what i have heard even today. but she certainlyi in her legislative work was able to work well with people. she had that sense of priorities that evan mentioned. what was important and what wasn't important. those qualities also search are very well later on in the appellate court in arizona and ultimately the supreme court. tha experience wast part of her formative years that made her such an important person and an affect a person. there is one other thing that is kind of interesting. evan mentioned she had a short time in private practice. i didn't find out until much later that the person that she had the private practice partnership with, tom tobin, was the brother of my law partner.
11:21 pm
in san diego when i was guess aboutlaw, i the same time. i never had the chance to meet her that. it was interesting. i think probably you can say that she, it implied by both of the speakers, and that is she learned a lot from every experience she had and utilize those qualities when she came and culminated in a very effective stint on the supreme court. >> i want to get to the confirmation process but i think i want to loop back to jay, because one of the thing i am pulling out, out of evan's book and in this conversation, it is sometimes hard to reconcile these two people we are hearing about, one who sort of spoke the truth. herwas not one to hide
11:22 pm
thought. s. she, time and time again by the time she came in the court she was pretty plain, including with oral advocates, she called it like she saw it. yet, we're hearing about somebody he was very canny and savvy and political. i'm having trouble squaring the truth teller o'connor with the one who was just a very adept reader of people and knew how not to get in fights. takenk i also want you to a run at squaring the other thing that i think evan said, she's a deeply feminine woman. she came across at her confirmation hearing. she was not in any way trying to be a man in a man's world. but yet she was incredibly effective in a man's world. that was an enormous compound question. [laughter]
11:23 pm
you can choose to ignore parts one or two. can you flesh out some of those contradictions? jay: on your latter question, i'm sort of her approach as a time she was, the you know, before being on the court, by the time she was nominated on the court, there were not as many example figures, women leaders in thetics and noit in judiciary. it was really sort of a different time, and it was a real transition for the country where women had played very traditional roles. you fast for today and there is a very different view towards women and women's issues and so forth. evan framed her and his book as bridge-- as a real from the traditional role of the woman to the modern era. i think that was an apt description. she was very effective in her professional relationships and
11:24 pm
social relationships. in dealing with difficult issues but doing it in her own way. and she certainly was not strife. she did not consider herself a feminist. outspokent strident, on women's issues but she felt very strongly on the importance qual representation and rights for women and her approach was very much to overcome the obstacles and lead by example. her approach was not to complain about things. to try to take pragmatic action with respect to her own career and respect to the her own thing she was dealing with. i think that was her real approach there. mr. thomas: one thought. yes, she could be very directed she was scary -- to a journalist. i know journalists that were scare at of her. she had these eyes that she
11:25 pm
weaponize. i ran into a candidate, the author of the famous, she has beams of fire, he said. she could just bore a hole through you. but. had great political skills and one things that i noticed. her friends measures, she was not a gossip. and washington it is not easy to be powerful or to be part of the washington swirl. she loved social life. it is difficult to do that. it is difficult to be a supreme court justice and not gossip. she just didn't. she could have opinions but she did not gossip. that made her much more effective. thathat was, it took self-discipline that she had and her clerk gossiped. they can speak to this but she did not like it. they were badmouthing the from
11:26 pm
other chambers and spreading wicked stories. she did not want to hear about it. that gave her a kind of a power, that self-discipline gave her power. >> and even at home, she made a practice of not trashing colleagues, trashing other people with whom she interacted. she would let us know what was going on. but she was very fair and generous to other people and was not highly -- mr. thomas: scott told me. her son scott said there are three rules on the household. be home by 6 p.m. don't speak ill of others and don't hit your brother. jay: she had a little more challenge with the last one. >> so this brings us to general knees. meese.eral you will have to tell us how this person comes into the national limelight. we know that president reagan
11:27 pm
makes a campaign promise. to a tap a can you help us understand what is going on behind the scenes at the white house? how is this woman, who still maybe not the most prominent woman on a court, how she becomes the sandra day o'connor that we all know? mr. meese: well, i started because what was mentioned here. this time, by this time, of course, the korean war is over. we're in a time of relative peace, progress economically and things were going forward. there were economic problems in the country and so on, but this women wereen actually starting to achieve things which had not really happened yet in the legal profession, as was mentioned earlier here. there was in her class there were five women. my class was 58. and was about, i think there were six.
11:28 pm
the most interestingly we started with 150 men and six women. we graduated 80 men and two women. not too many people made it through that all. but difficult for women women were starting to achieve positions in business and some of the other professions. and starting to, a few in law practice. reason, if this became an issue in 19 -- 1980 during the campaign. by that time women had advanced over that 20 year period. the question was raised a lot of time and ronald reagan did not actually promise to appoint a woman but he said he would like to appoint a woman. the reasons he had to be a little care for was he did not have that many women who had had long experience. group that yout
11:29 pm
would normally select justices from. and so, that was, but he was very much interested in that. so that was definitely a consideration. ful toas very help me. going back into the archives. there were not a lot of memos prior to the appointment of justice o'connor but there were at least one or two in the white house staff who work letting him know this would be a very good thing to do. that's why he asked bill smith, the attorney general at the time, to go and, he wanted to have a selection of people, highly qualified lawyers and judges from other benches, but he wanted to be sure that there were women among them. and so, when they came to him and the list, and it narrowedw down after a lot of work at the department of justiceas. i remember correctly out of a
11:30 pm
group of probably eight or 10 in the first major cut he made, there were i believe two women. ultimately as he went through, he had decided that sandra day o'connor was the one he wanted, had more vetting of her. the things we have heard today already, what he had heard about her. the fact that she had been in the legislature. he particular, i think it was important that a judge had legislative experience. understood what it was to be a legislator, so they were not making the citizens in a vacuum -- the fact she had had that experience in the legislation, understood what making law is, something judges are not supposed to do. theunderstands how representation of the people works into the law themselves so they would have an appreciation
11:31 pm
of what their job was to do in interpreting the law. all of these things but i think especially we heard today about her early life, the fact she worked on a ranch, i cannot help but think it became a major factor and ronald reagan thinking very highly of her. >> evan, i guess i want to ask you to amplify that. what was the, what was the secret sauce that she brought to, to, the selection process, and is it that president reagan responded to? mr. thomas: i spoke to can star who was william smith's special assistant. conmemo.a from the point of view of the attorney general's office, they reagan inident october 1980 and said one of the first appointments would be a woman.
11:32 pm
in the attorney general's office they thought that was a political promise. 10 points inwn illinois with women. they did not take it seriously. they thought they would get bob rourke. -- bob bork. deemed to court was have gone too far and one thing ronald reagan was going to do was appoint justices that will push the pendulum back a little bit. so, in the office of the attorney general the thought was great we will get bork or somebody like that but the attorney general came to them and said, no. the president says i want a. woman unless you really can't find one we are going to have a woman. the problem was that, although society was moving, the law was still very male in 1980. judges, onlyderal eight were women and most of them were liberal democrats. there was maybe one other, cornelia kennedy who was
11:33 pm
qualified on paper but was not the kind of personality that would relate to ronald reagan. ckly, judgey qui then, arizona court of appeals judge o'connor rose to the top of the pile. with no constitutional experience. she rose to the top of the pile because bill rehnquist was pushing for her. because the chief justice of the united states had met and liked her, was pushing for her. were other people, goldwater gets in the act later. she had a backing. they actually only two judges were interviewed. cornelia kennedy and justice o'connor. the president's
11:34 pm
chief of staff, said the only serious one was o'connor. at the end of the interview both ken starr and john rose went to phoenix to your house and 100 degree heat. she made us salmon mousse. and she passed her little oral quiz with flying colors. and, you know, and then, you know, she was it. she was going to be the nominee. as we get to this there was a little kerfuffle over her nomination, which we can talk about. but that's pretty much what happened as far as i know from the memo ken starr wrote. to sayt, i think i want something because what you are saying does feel so importantly with the story that justice ginsburg always tells. she's speaking later but she is always at great pains to talk about the men who supported and
11:35 pm
allied themselves and help her. just an important piece of this, you know, when he get on our sort of girl power soapboxes about the first justice, to really understand that without having male allies, which justice o'connor had extraordinary friendships and relationships with men who were really willing to go to that for her. i think they are in some part of the story. but now i just want to ask jay. it is becoming manifest in your family that this is coming. ousse notwithstanding, what was it like realizing you were just about to barrel into the biggest thing that could ever happen to anyone? jay: it went in phases. when the seat opened up, the campaign promise had been made before and the seat opens up and then the discussion starts
11:36 pm
happening. speculation started happening about who it would be. those arizona senators at the time, barry goldwater and dennis -- the democrat, both suggested her and said she would be a fantastic candidate. her name was out there is a woman who might fit. the family thought the supreme court was so few seats available that come up. the odds are long. momof us including miny thought the odds were low. confluence of so many people independently suggesting her that she became a serious candidate. the interview team came out to arizona as evan explained. my dad ended up walking amount to their car to see them off and he asked the question and said, let me ask you a question. you do not have to answer this. how many other people are you having conversations with like this? they said, this is the only one. they realize, ok, this is
11:37 pm
serious. so, they shared that with the family. oh, my goodness. this really might happen. but it is such a long shot. she was invited back, interviewed with the team at the white house over sort of a day and a half. and came back from that. she finally got the call. the call came into her and she was in her chambers in state court. the president gone on the line with her. and she was stunned and excited and just filled with emotion. she called my dad and said, john, it has happened. so, for the family we went to thinking, no, this cannot happen to, my gosh, she has been nominated. for us, it was just, you know, we were thrilled and intrigue. we didn't understand that much about, my brothers and i, about the court. youngest and i was finished my freshman year in college. my younger brother had been a
11:38 pm
junior in college. very exciting for us and we were very, very supportive of her going through but it was thrilling. >> general mise, i know you came to be very good friends -- general meese with saturday and tell usonnor, can you about initially meeting them and if you had any renovations post meeting with them but what your first impressions were? mr. meese: my first impression was that i was very happy that ronald reagan had found a woman he thought was appropriate to be on the court because, as we all talked about, the were not that many available candidates but this was one that in any group that she might have been in, she seemed to fit all the different qualifications. we mentioned some of them with the legislative experience, the personality, the vetting that had gone away the various peoples at the department of
11:39 pm
justice. all came back with very laudatory recommendations. bill smith, the president put a lot of confidence in bill on judgeships generally. by the time he came over to us in the white house, usually it was pretty much. we were pretty close to the end of the trail and so, i think my own feeling was this was a very accomplished lady, person that you would like to work with. have part of your administration. even in the august halls of the supreme court where you do not have an awful lot of social contact. i must say, we probably had in probablyng two years, more social contact with her than any other member of the court probably, because she was very active socially. and was a very easy person to know. i was extremely impressed with her. not only with her background but, it was great to have this person as the first woman to be on the supreme court. >> evan, can you flesh out what
11:40 pm
concerns were, to the extent that there were concerns, going into confirmation hearings. what were folks worry about? mr. thomas: there was really only one issue. it turned out to be minor but for a moment -- that was she had as an arizona legislator, she had voted in committee to decriminalize abortion before roe v. wade. and the right to life folks got onto this and stirred the pot in congress. more majority was coming on strong and jesse helms was a power in congress. and there was a concern that helms and some others, they were saying, what is this about her abortion record? there was a moment when we thought, whoa, they were
11:41 pm
demonstrators chanting "vote no on o." there was a little flap but several things happen. maybe general meese could speak to this. the white house was never bothered by this. they wanted this to go away. they said the people of to the hill. she was a great advocate in her own cost. -- own cause. she made friends with strom thurmond help and charged -- strom thurmond wife and jesse helms. ier thnas were squishy o an had been initially suggested and there is one more interesting piece of this. i'm very grateful that jay gave me justice o'connor's diary. iary.ept a dair this is her version of the meeting with ronald reagan.
11:42 pm
she said, she was anxious. he said to me there has been a lot of debate about when life begins. and i think we should give the benefit of the doubt to life beginning at conception. she thinks he's warming up to a question on abortion. but he left it at that. he never asked the question. she was on the record that she found abortion personally abo rrent. she did not say what should we do about the court. in her confirmation hearings but when the president himself brought the subject up, he did not ask the question. she gave a sigh of relief and they started talking about horses. now, i think that is because the president, and maybe general nice has a better sense of this, really did not want to know when away. did not want to have a fight over this. thinkuthfully, i do not at that moment she knew exactly where she was on roe v. wade. >> she'd never faced the issue
11:43 pm
as a legal counsel. mr. thomas: it is a hard thing. she spent many years on the court working her position. she became, her position became the law of the land on abortion, but it took a number of years for her to get there. >> that is the question i was going to ask you because you said when we had our preparatory call you said the same thing. this was not an issue for the white house. they didn't want to get in a fight about this. mr. meese: ronald reagan always felt that he should not exact a promise from a judge on how they would rule on cases they had not seen yet. she felt the same way. and that was actually the way in which she got through. she had a lot of questions and the committee hearings. a lot of questions when she went around to meet the different senators. she always took the position that i cannot tell you or make a decision on a case that i have not yet seen on the facts. that was true, because later on the were some abortion cases in
11:44 pm
which she ruled one way. because the issues were slightly, in some cases substantially different. the president had the same idea of not having a quid pro quo. in other words, making a litmus test, you might say on any issue, particularly when you did not know what the facts would be in a future case. it was a matter of the basic ethical feelings on both parts, that this is a subject she was not going to answer a question like that. >> and speaking of things that we could not contemplate ever happening again, she then sailed through her confirmation hearing with a 99-1. the mr. meese: in the senate. she, i think there were maybe a couple of negative votes in the committee. but not any substantial. >> i don't think so, actually.
11:45 pm
mr. thomas: senator denton gave her a hard time. mr. meese: i'm not. mr. thomas: i don't think so. mr. meese: there had been some. there had been some strong questions by him. mr. thomas: senator denton questioned her. >> but it does lead me to -- mr. meese: by the way. not only, but the person who was absent that day center a book -- sent her a book with an apology had not been there to vote for her. >> but i do think we have to talk for a minute about the confirmation hearings themselves. they are televised. mr. meese: this was the first time confirmation hearings had been televised. and, you know, of until that time, they were not usually very contentious. as a matter of fact when william douglas in the 1930's was, probably the most liberal justice ever recommended by franklin roosevelt, he sat
11:46 pm
outside the hearing room and after he set out there an hour, summit came out and said you can go home, we do not have any questions. quite a difference from today. that, they were not contentious at that time. and i suspect there were a lot of members of the senate who did not want to be in the position of voting against are either because she had made such a good appearance but also this was the first woman. >> and that leads me to, and i know we're going to talk about this as the day progresses, but this is the media event that turns her into a rock star. this is the thing that she i think still was the most recognized justice. i m ean, everybody, stacks of mail being sent to chambers. the risk ofly, at coming in no, overstating it, kind of was the kardashian of the court. she was the person who everybody knew who she was. and young girl would stand in
11:47 pm
line. i guess i'm so ambivalent about that, because i think now we are in a moment where celebrity justices have become a thing. it wasn't something she sought out, but it certainly happened. i guess, jay, i would love for you to reflect on being in the eye on this media rockstar hurricane. jay: it was both the first televised hearing and because it was the first woman. momently was an iconic for so many women and professional women. and throughout the rest of her life, so many women would come up to her and tell her -- about remembering exactly where they w ere when they learned she was the first woman to be appointed to the court. and it was a real game changer. well-known it's a
11:48 pm
figure. at that time, most americans cannot name one other justice on the court. they were not, people in d.c. and lawyers with no differently but if you asked, person, name, the people on the supreme court. most people couldn't zer -- could name zero. they could name her. she was well recognized around d.c. and. going around town and i think she, for her, i think she felt the next a burden as the first woman and as a recognized figure about how she would perform on the court. she said many times, it is a good thing to be the first on the court, that you do not want to be the last. she knew all euyes would be on her -- all eyes would be on her and she had to do her best. >> evan, go ahead. mr. thomas: to follow up on that, in her diary, she knew
11:49 pm
everybody was watching. in her first oral argument, she, are on her, waiting for the first question and she starts to ask the first question. the lawyer talks over her. she wrote in her diary, i felt put down. that's a very unusual emotion for her. and it didn't last very long. but think about this for a second. she had been a legislator, state court judge. not deal with the constitution and she had to learned that summer. she had to learn all the jurisprudence and the u.s. constitution that summer. she lost ten pounds. the person preparing her was a young justice department aide named john roberts, the current chief justice. we laugh about this a little bit
11:50 pm
because she was not satisfied with his pace. she could not get it. he couldn't get the stuff. he could not get it xeroxed fast enough to get to her. she was impatient about it. think of that for a homework assignment. she knew that they were going to be watching her at the supreme court. and they are going to pick this up in the next panel, those early days were not easy. it's a cold place. it is marble. she would go into those courtyards and turned her face up to the sun. because she missed the arizona sun. her first lunch at the court only f justices showedour up. remember the brethren of woodward and armstrong? the justices were suspicious of each other. it was not that easy. there was no road met. justice powell was gracious. got her secretary.
11:51 pm
justice rehnquist was all be standoffish in these early years. justice rehnquist had a terrible back condition and i think that factored in. she was lonely. said, it is jay good to be first but you do not want to be last. she did very well. tha justice powell wrote his familyt, she said, she 'brilliant. she made her mark right away but it is an intimidating thing to walk into that. one other story about this. they have a wonderful tradition of the supreme court hands before they going to conference. every justice shakes hands of every other justice. justice bryon white, the all-pro half pack from the detroit lions, shook her hand so hard he crushed it. the first woman went into her first conference crying. there were tears squirting out of her eyes, because he had
11:52 pm
crushed her hand. and the other justices, justice stevens told us there was a tradition, the junior justice takes notes and gets coffee. justice stevens said he talked about this. we're not going to ask her to get coffee but they didn't. >> so, this brings me to the that enemiesry my thinking about justice o'connor. i'm going to ask you to respond to it. we have talked so much about how we think about her being the first. i'm always more curious about how she thought about being the first. and i say it in part because i know she spent her whole career saying it didn't matter. a wise old man and a wise old woman would come to the same conclusion. there is no such thing as female jurisprudence. we're the same. she was very meticulous about
11:53 pm
saying that her gender did not matter, except to her that it mattered. and i always and mindful of that because when john roberts was tagged to replacer she famously said, he's a very good and excellent choice. apparently he was now fast test., that xerox her there heapped, first reflexive, she was flyfishing at the time, and their first comment was, he's a very good choice but it should of been a woman. and i guess that to me encapsulates this ambivalence tot it mattered terribly her that she was the first woman on the court but she also really wanted to make the claim that it did not matter. as yourasking an staircase question but i wonder and maybe we can start with you,, jay, what did it mean to her? jay: she felt both of those
11:54 pm
statements were true. from a legal principle she did feel that it is sexist to say that a woman is going to vote differently than a man on a legal issue. she felt strongly and that is what she would always say but i think that she felt that it matter societally, and she thought that it helped the court to have a variety of perspectives. she really, i think believed both of those things at the same time. to conflict with one another but i think they were both true former. mr. thomas: she was a non-feminist feminist. she advance the cause of women rights as much of anybody ever but she never explicitly refer to himself as a feminist. she saw, jay said that i framed the book as hers. that was her frame. she had a poem about a cogo group built a bridge. >> she used it in her speeches. mr. thomas: a pilgrim who builds
11:55 pm
the bridge so that others may cross. so others may cross. she saw herself in that transitional role. and who better, who better than sandra day, how lucky we were that she was the first. meese, ithink general would ascot slightly different and i remembered her always telling the story about how tweake scalia would gig you only got this because president reagan made this pledge. having heard that, that's kind of why she got the job she was nobody's bork. she was taken on as a woman. and yet she always said it did not bother her at all when sc alia would tease her. scalia was quite
11:56 pm
a humorous. he was not trying to put her down. it was a jovial thingy had with the other members of the court and particularly her. i don't think. she had spent your entire life doing things that were mostly jobs held by men. this was not unusual in that sense. but she also was, as everybody has said, she was no longer, she was not a woman. and yet she was able to carry this out in excellent fashion. to me, it was even more than being the first woman on the court. did, shen e the thing she put a human face on the core. up until then i do not think anybody thought of justices as human beings. this is the thing she added to it because of personality she had as well as the way in which he treated other people. that was a real plus not only for the court but for women and for the country. >> you're going to hear a lot
11:57 pm
about cherry blossoms in all the ways that she really did i think become kind of the cruise director on the supreme court. just really mindful of how to treat people with this capacious big heart and infinite patience. i want to thank evan thomas whose book "first" is really an extraordinary piece of work. i want to jthank jay o'connor. and i want to thank general edwin thesmeese iii. 75th attorney general of the united states. on behalf of all of us it has been a joy and a pleasure, starting your day hearing about the truly extraordinary sandra day o'connor. thank you. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy.
11:58 pm
visit] >> this weekend on american history tv, sunday at 6 p.m. eastern on american artifacts, during the army heritage days in carlisle, pennsylvania, we visited world war ii army battalion ai stationd. >> this is a mobile emergency room. we do,y emergency rooms, we assess, we treat, we stabilize, then we get them out, get out of my e.r. the workspresidency, and interesting contributions of pat nixon 50 years later. >> we're conscious of this burgeoning women's movement. is politically astute realize that republicans were losing some ground on this. it was the democrats proposing legislation and bills to support women. closely with the
11:59 pm
office of women's issues in the white house to help with more appointments of women in the federal government. >> explore our nation's past on american history tv, every weekend on c-span 3. sunday night on q&a, american university distinguished professor of history alan kraut looks back at policies on managing immigration. >> i would >> i would argue the current wave of native system xenophobia is not different from what we have seen in the past. while it seems to us to be peppered with acts of violence and ferocity, there have been other acts of violence, anti-immigrant violence in the period before the civil war, in the 1880's. there have been a lot of moments
12:00 am
in american history when the anti-immigrant sentiment has been translated into true ugliness. >> watch sunday night at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span posco "q&a." "lectures in history," do ron taylor teaches a class on american cartoons in world war ii. the waves day supported and influence the effort. he shows superhero comics that urged kids to do their part by recycling paper and buying savings bonds and stamps. at there going to look where the so-called real with thees together cartoon and comic world. that's why the title of today's class


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on