Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Go On! Tribute to Sandra Day O'Connor

(Go On! is an occasional item on symposia of interest) Truly among the 20th century's pathbreaking American women is Sandra Day O'Connor. She was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1930 and raised on a hardscrabble ranch in Arizona, about which she's written in the book below. She went on to be graduated at the top of her class at Stanford Law. Rejected on account of her sex for a law firm position, she worked as a government lawyer, then as a state judge. In 1981, of course, she became the 1st woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she served as an Associate Justice for a quarter-century before retiring in 2006.
Good to see news of a symposium in her honor. "A Tribute to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor: Reflecting on Justice O'Connor's Jurisprudence Relating to Race and Education," will be held all day on February 22, 2008, at the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. (Registration information here.) Speakers include Professors Suzette M. Malveaux, Elizabeth H. Patterson, and Cristina Rodriguez, as well as former Assistant Attorney General Patricia A. Millett.
Hope that in the course of focusing on O'Connor's race/education decisions, participants pay heed to the role played by global context. As I wrote here (p. 1261 & n. 356), O'Connor frequently spoke outside of the Court about the need for dialogue between U.S. judges and their counterparts abroad. She backed those words up with actions, serving both on the American Bar Association's Europe and Eurasia (CEELI) Program and as founding chair of the judicial advisory board of the American Society of International Law. See too her speech to ASIL, just reprinted along with those of other Justices in a new book, A Decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind…
In her opinions O'Connor was more hesitant to invoke overtly foreign/international laws, norms, and context, as I've written here (pp. 602-03) and here (p. 1334). She thus stood in contrast with the woman who succeeded her on ASIL's advisory board, her colleague Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, about whose affinity to comparative constitutional law we've posted. An exception was O'Connor's opinion for the Court in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). There she grounded her conclusion that government has a compelling interest in diversity -- thus justifying the affirmative action program at the University of Michigan's law school -- on assertions

that the skills needed in today's increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints.

No comments: