The Four Justices: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Interview – National Portrait Gallery


(Music) I wanted since I was the first not be the last and I wanted to do the
job well so it would provide encouragement for
women to serve in the future. When Justice
Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court, she had traveled a long road from the cattle ranch in the southwest where she was raised (inaudible) major gender discrimination
roadblocks in the beginning of her legal career. I
didn’t know there was a problem out on the ranch there certainly wasn’t a
problem so I was unaware of any gender discrimination if you will, that
was not in my scope of experience at all. – When did you first become aware of this discrimination? – Oh I don’t know, probably much later in life when I tried to get a job – Were you surprised how limited the
possibilities were when you graduated from law school? – I was shocked because I did very well in
law school I was way up there and I assumed everything would be perfect and it wasn’t, I couldn’t get a job offer and I was shocked by that. After
graduating from Stanford Law School when she could not get a job as a lawyer at a
law firm, she finally started working as a deputy
county attorney in California so to be nominated to the top court in
the country almost three decades later well it was of course a surprise that I
was and it was very demanding because I had to put forward a demeanor that would enable the voters to say oh it would
be alright if we had a woman in that position. During her earliest years on the family
cattle ranch, Sandra Day learned to be independent
riding horses and to be a team player working with her family and cowboys. When she was sent off to private school
in nearby El Paso, she got a surprising glimpse at greatness
in a forceful first lady who stopped by her school. There was an occasion, one occasion while I was a student there that the principal of Redford school
for girls had met Eleanor Roosevelt somehow and
persuaded her to come stop in El Paso and come to Redford
school one day I did not dare tell my parents I knew they would yank me out instantly
and never let me go back if they knew Eleanor Roosevelt was there. -Did you ever tell them? – No As the first woman on the Supreme Court,
O’Connor has since been honored by several first families. Justice O’Connor became a moderate voice
on the bench not to be pigeonholed protecting women’s
rights and remedies against racial discrimination. She was the only
woman on the Supreme Court for 12 years until justice Ginsburg began to serve.
She bravely faced breast cancer seven years into her court tenure and planned her treatment so she would not miss sittings. – what was your most significant
contribution here at the Supreme Court? I think it had to be to perform my duties here in such a way that it left the door open to put additional women on the court as
time went by that was the thing. Who didn’t want to serve as a woman and do a lousy job so they weren’t going to have another one as long as they could help it, I didn’t want that. O’Connor juggled a legal career and raising three sons. It’s hard work, there’s a lot to do and if you’re trying to do a paid job in addition to taking care of family, it’s
extremely challenging we didn’t have the means to have
household help in those days,I didn’t have any of that so
I had to do everything plus my job. and it was hard, no question. Now retired
from the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor has a lifelong mission of encouraging Americans of all ages to
become more civic-minded. – what do you think are the basics everybody should know, every American? that women are as capable as men of handling all of their jobs from start to finish at state
government level and at federal government level. That’s very important that our citizens look at women as well as men and say well, if we have to pick a new member of
congress we can certainly consider Suzan as well as Jim They’re both capable of doing their job and we’re going to evaluate both of them.

2 thoughts on “The Four Justices: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Interview – National Portrait Gallery

  1. O'Connor is a brilliant jurist… However, her jurisprudence was absolutely inconsistent. She was all over the place with no legitimate judicial philosophy.

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