Cover image for The majesty of the law : reflections of a Supreme Court Justice
Title:
The majesty of the law : reflections of a Supreme Court Justice
Author:
O'Connor, Sandra Day, 1930-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First trade edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2003]

©2003
Physical Description:
xx, 330 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 12.0 18.0 76692.
Personal Subject:
Corporate Subject:
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780375509254
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

InThe Majesty of the Law, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor explores the law, her life as a Justice, and how the Court has evolved and continues to function, grow, and change as an American institution. Tracing some of the origins of American law through history, people, and ideas, O'Connor sheds new light on the basics, and through personal observation she explores the development of institutions and ideas we have come to regard as fundamental. O'Connor discusses notable cases that have shaped American democracy and the Court as we know it today, and she traces the turbulent battle women have fought for a place in our nation's legal system since America's inception. Straight-talking, clear-eyed, inspiring,The Majesty of the Lawis more than a reflection on O'Connor's own experiences as the first female Justice of the Supreme Court; it also contains a discussion of how the suffrage movement changed the lives of women--in voting booths, jury boxes, and homes across the country. InThe Majesty of the Law, Sandra Day O'Connor reveals some of what she has learned and believes about American law and life, insights gleaned over her years as one of the most powerful and inspiring women in American history.


Author Notes

Sandra Day O'Connor was born in El Paso, Texas, attended college and law school at Stanford University, has been married to John O'Connor since 1952, and they have three sons. She was Arizona state senator from 1969-1975, and she served on the Arizona Court of Appeals from 1979-1981. Nominated by President Reagan as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, she took the oath of office on September 25, 1981, the first woman to do so.

(Publisher Provided) Sandra Day O'Connor was born on March 26, 1930 in El Paso, Texas and is a retired United States Supreme Court Justice. She served as an Associate Justice from her appointment in 1981 by Ronald Reagan until her retirement from the Court in 2006. She was the first woman to be appointed to the Court. Prior to O'Connor's appointment to the Court, she was an elected official and judge in Arizona. O'Connor was Chancellor of The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and currently serves on the board of trustees of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Several publications have named O'Connor among the most powerful women in the world. On August 12, 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States, by President Barack Obama. Sandra Day O'Connor attended Stanford University, where she received her B.A. in economics in 1950. She continued at the Stanford Law School for her LL.B.. There, she served on the Stanford Law Review. O'Connor served as Assistant Attorney General of Arizona 1965 -69 until she was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Arizona State Senate. She was re-elected to the State Senate in 1973 and became the first woman to serve as its Majority Leader. In 1975 she was elected to the Maricopa County Superior Court and in 1979 was elevated to the Arizona State Court of Appeals. She served on the Court of Appeals until 1981 when she was appointed to the Supreme Court. Aside from being a judge she has authored several books including Thanks for Listening, Lazy B and Rugged Justice. Her title Out of Order made The New York Times Best Seller List for 2013.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

O'Connor, veteran associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, distills in this book the scores of talks she has given across the country and around the world in the 20 years since her accession to the high court. O'Connor, the author of the bestselling memoir Lazy B, is an enthusiast of the American legal system, reaching back to its origins in the Magna Carta and, later, in the English Privy Council, with its power to invalidate legislation. Declaring federal and state laws unconstitutional, of course, is the core of the Supreme Court's authority over this country's legal system, and O'Connor traces the exercise of that authority from the era of Chief Justice John Marshall to Brown v. Board of Education. In other chapters, O'Connor profiles Supreme Court titans such as Holmes and Taft, and reviews the long struggle to gain for women the right to vote. Elsewhere, the author suggests reforms for the jury system, extols the benefits of an independent judiciary and offers a graceful tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall. Canons of ethics prohibit judges from public comment on controversial matters likely to arise in their future cases, and a Supreme Court justice cannot reveal the dynamics of the Court's deliberations. These rules of discretion pervade O'Connor's book. Divisive (and provocative) issues such as abortion, the death penalty or affirmative action are addressed only in the broadest possible generalities. Purged of controversy, O'Connor's book is an engagingly written civics lesson, delivering a warm appreciation of legal history and principles but little light on the issues the Supreme Court confronts today. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Choice Review

In this book, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor reflects on various facets of American law and the history of the Supreme Court. What is perhaps most intriguing are her recollections of her reception as the first woman appointed to the high court and the growing role of women in law. Justice O'Connor's style is informal and accessible. The reader should not expect to find penetrating analyses of controversial constitutional issues. Instead, Justice O'Connor provides lively commentary on "a bit of history" of selected legal issues, interesting profiles of several Supreme Court justices, problems facing women in the law, the organization and structure of the modern American legal profession and the judiciary, and the rule of law in an era of globalization. The book is a good introduction to the nature and function of American law and the distinctive role of the US Supreme Court. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers and lower-division undergraduates. M. M. Feeley University of California, Berkeley


Booklist Review

O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice, offers a broad-ranging look at the most revered and enigmatic institution of the federal government, from the day-to-day activities to portraits of individual justices to historic perspective on how the Court has evolved. One of the most compelling chapters recalls individual justices who have had the most impact, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, who distinguished between law and morality and contributed to understanding First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and the rights of the accused to a fair trial; John Marshall, considered the greatest chief justice, who pressed for unanimity in Court opinions through the force of legal reasoning; Thurgood Marshall, who used anecdotes to convey the underlying human and social issues behind legal cases; and Chief Justice Warren Burger, who emphasized raising the quality of justice by improving the management of the courts. O'Connor details how the Court has evolved, including the fact that more recent Courts have issued unanimous opinions in only 44 percent of rulings, with 19 percent decided by a single vote. Readers interested in the history and operations of the U.S. Supreme Court will enjoy this straightforward and accessible look at how the Court has evolved and continues to shape American democracy. --Vanessa Bush


Library Journal Review

O'Connor gets down to the nitty-gritty of her profession. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Justice O'Connor gives a history of the U.S. judicial system with an emphasis on how the Supreme Court evolved into its present form. For students only dimly aware of the court through a basic civics class and the occasional sensational case highlighted by the media, this title will prove to be enlightening. The book takes on a conversational tone, and it's easy to imagine oneself in a university lecture hall with O'Connor as the (usually) fascinating professor who has her feet firmly planted in the real world. To get the most out of the book, it should be read cover to cover. However, it is also useful for readers who wish commentary on particular aspects of the Supreme Court, historical cases, or personalities. The tone is even, and O'Connor has a kind and often complimentary attitude toward fellow justices past and present. High points are her experiences working with Justice Thurgood Marshall, and her thoughts on women and the law. As a bonus, she includes a glimpse into her views on judicial systems of countries that are undergoing their own painful evolutions, such as the former Soviet bloc. All in all, this is a good book for readers who would like a personable introduction to one of our nation's most powerful institutions.-Sheila Shoup, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

CHAPTER ONE What's It Like? What is it like working at the supreme court? Because I never dreamed that I would end up where I am, I had no preconceived ideas about the job upon arriving for work the first day. I had not been admitted to practice before the Court. The first argument I ever witnessed in the Supreme Court was one that I considered as a member of the Court justice. My guess is that such experiences were not uncommon for new Justices, at least until more recent years. All I knew was that the job would be a tremendous undertaking. I had no specific ideas about the mechanics of being a Justice, however, or what the decision-making process on the Court was really like. I hoped that I had the basic ability and could develop the skills not only to do the job but to do it well in order that not only women but most citizens would think that the President had made a good choice. There is one custom we have on the Court that was a pleasant surprise to me and that I treasure. Each day when there is oral argument, just before we go out on the bench, and each day before we confer, every Justice shakes the hand of every other Justice. To an outsider, this may seem baroque and unnecessary, but you must realize we are a very small group. We see and interact with one another often, and we all know we will continue to do so for the rest of our professional lives. It is important that we get along together so we can go along together. The one-page memo and the color-coded distribution sheet have yet to reach the Supreme Court. Indeed, the Court is a more reliable backstop for the health of the paper industry than any protectionist legislation Congress might pass. A Justice is by protocol allowed to make a grocery list without making eight copies to distribute around the Court, but pretty much everything else is done not only on paper but with copies for every other Justice to read as well. Petitions asking the Court to grant review of a case come to us throughout the year from both the federal and the state court systems. And they come in significant numbers. We now receive more than seven thousand applications a year. Many call but few are chosen; the Court accepts for full review with briefing and oral argument no more than one hundred or so cases for each year's term. In addition, the Court summarily decides up to another hundred or so cases without oral argument and full briefing. In making this drastic culling, the Court has relatively few hard and fast rules to guide or restrict its decisions. We follow an unwritten policy that it takes the agreement of at least four Justices to accept a case. With each petition we consider the importance of the issue, how likely it is to recur in various courts around the country, and the extent to which other courts considering the issue have reached conflicting holdings on it. My own evaluation of the applications is based on what I believe to be the primary role of the Court: with fifty separate state-court systems and thirteen federal circuits, our task is to try to develop a reasonably uniform and consistent body of federal law. Petitions seeking full-scale review in cases posing a genuine conflict among the lower courts on an important issue of federal law obviously are much more likely to garner the required number of votes to grant the petition than are petitions in cases where the lower courts are generally in agreement on the legal issue in the case. Each year the members of the Court must read the briefs in the one hundred or so cases on which the Court hears oral arguments. After argument, each case has to be decided and explained in a published opinion. During the weeks of oral arguments The Justices confer after the arguments are heard. This is where we learn how each Justice thinks the case should be resolved and why. Based on this discussion, writing assignments are made for the case. If the Chief Justice is in the majority on a case, he assigns the writing of the Court's opinion to one of the Justices in the majority or to himself. If not, the most senior justice in the majority makes the assignment. Likewise, if a dissent is to be written and joined by more than one Justice, the most senior Justice planning to join that dissent assigns the writing. The writer of the majority opinion must try to reconcile the views of those in the majority. When the opinion draft is circulated, each Justice reads it and decides whether to join it or to ask for revisions as a condition of joining. Sometimes a Justice will write a concurring opinion subscribing to the result in the majority opinion but based on different reasons, which it provides. If there is a dissenting view, that too is written up and circulated to all the Justices. In the end the opinion for the Court may be the result of many drafts and changes. Eventually, each participating Justice will have agreed to one or more of the opinions in the case. Each term produces something like five thousand pages' worth of opinions in the United States Reports. It all adds up to a lot of paper. Serving on the Court has provided me with a number of pleasant surprises. Some people think that the Court is full of bitter battles, and it is true that the Court's opinions sometimes include strong language. But in fact one of my earliest and most rewarding experiences on the Court, and one that I did not fully anticipate, was of the warmth, kindness, and civility of my fellow Justices. Every one of my colleagues has been very thoughtful and considerate. There have been times with some previous Courts when some members did not get along and when some animosity persisted among certain Justices. Happily, that has not been the situation during my time here. It is a particular pleasure to be able to serve in an atmosphere of respect and affection for one's colleagues. What is quite remarkable in my view is that each and every petition for review, whether produced by a sophisticated lawyer in a high-rise or handwritten by a prison inmate or a private citizen in her home, is reviewed with care by each Justice. And every written opinion of the Court is read with utmost care and attention by every other Justice, with an eye toward refinement or improvement. The process we follow, I think, provides some reason to have faith in the nation's judicial system. Of course, not everyone is happy with the Court's decision in any given case. After all, you have two sides only one can win. And often that unhappy party is the court below, because the Supreme Court reverses about two thirds of the lower-court decisions in those cases it reviews. When I am not hearing oral arguments, researching and considering the law, or discussing the cases with my colleagues or my clerks, part of my time is spent dealing with a mass of correspondence. Some relates to pending cases. I ignore all such letters. Many letters are from schoolchildren who want information from me or about me. I do the best I can to process and answer these. People often think of the Supreme Court as a remote Washington institution. State and local judges are forced by proximity to stay in touch with the concerns of those they serve. The Supreme Court, in contrast, serves a national purpose for a vast country. One might wonder, therefore, if the Court is simply a large, federal institution, distant and out of touch with the people. But in fact the Court is not a bad place from which to get some sense of the nation's concerns, or at least its national legal concerns. The more than seven thousand petitions for review each year come from all across the country and involve a very wide range of legal issues. The Court hears oral argument in cases that have their genesis in front-page actions by Congress as well as in the actions of police officers in tiny towns. The attorneys who appear before the Court, and the clients whose problems have brought them there, present a similarly broad geographical cross section. Justices are drawn from all over the country and are a diverse group. This, in my view, is another reason to be optimistic about the Court. Diversity is its strength, just as it is the strength of America itself. In my twenty plus years on the Court, I have learned at least one lesson very vividly. A Justice is constantly called upon to try to draw some harmony from that diversity-and even to reconcile the irreconcilable. E. B. White said, "Democracy is based on the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time."1 In the narrow view, the Supreme Court is based on the suspicion that five Justices are similarly correct. In the broader view, I think that the Justices contribute to the wider democracy. We struggle with national issues and attempt to define from a national perspective what it is that the federal laws and the Constitution say. If you don't agree with all of the Court's holdings, you are certainly not alone. But you may be confident that we never stop trying in our writings on every case on our agenda to contribute appropriately to the fragile balances of our national democracy. Excerpted from The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice by Sandra Day O'Connor All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 What's It Like? What is it like working at the supreme court? Because I never dreamed that I would end up where I am, I had no preconceived ideas about the job upon arriving for work the first day. I had not been admitted to practice before the Court. The first argument I ever witnessed in the Supreme Court was one that I considered as a member of the Court justice. My guess is that such experiences were not uncommon for new Justices, at least until more recent years.
All I knew was that the job would be a tremendous undertaking. I had no specific ideas about the mechanics of being a Justice, however, or what the decision-making process on the Court was really like. I hoped that I had the basic ability and could develop the skills not only to do the job but to do it well in order that not only women but most citizens would think that the President had made a good choice.
There is one custom we have on the Court that was a pleasant surprise to me and that I treasure. Each day when there is oral argument, just before we go out on the bench, and each day before we confer, every Justice shakes the hand of every other Justice. To an outsider, this may seem baroque and unnecessary, but you must realize we are a very small group. We see and interact with one another often, and we all know we will continue to do so for the rest of our professional lives. It is important that we get along together so we can go along together.
The one-page memo and the color-coded distribution sheet have yet to reach the Supreme Court. Indeed, the Court is a more reliable backstop for the health of the paper industry than any protectionist legislation Congress might pass. A Justice is by protocol allowed to make a grocery list without making eight copies to distribute around the Court, but pretty much everything else is done not only on paper but with copies for every other Justice to read as well.
Petitions asking the Court to grant review of a case come to us throughout the year from both the federal and the state court systems. And they come in significant numbers. We now receive more than seven thousand applications a year. Many call but few are chosen; the Court accepts for full review with briefing and oral argument no more than one hundred or so cases for each year's term. In addition, the Court summarily decides up to another hundred or so cases without oral argument and full briefing. In making this drastic culling, the Court has relatively few hard and fast rules to guide or restrict its decisions.
We follow an unwritten policy that it takes the agreement of at least four Justices to accept a case. With each petition we consider the importance of the issue, how likely it is to recur in various courts around the country, and the extent to which other courts considering the issue have reached conflicting holdings on it.
My own evaluation of the applications is based on what I believe to be the primary role of the Court: with fifty separate state-court systems and thirteen federal circuits, our task is to try to develop a reasonably uniform and consistent body of federal law. Petitions seeking full-scale review in cases posing a genuine conflict among the lower courts on an important issue of federal law obviously are much more likely to garner the required number of votes to grant the petition than are petitions in cases where the lower courts are generally in agreement on the legal issue in the case.
Each year the members of the Court must read the briefs in the one hundred or so cases on which the Court hears oral arguments. After argument, each case has to be decided and explained in a published opinion.
During the weeks of oral arguments The Justices confer after the arguments are heard. This is where we learn how each Justice thinks the case should be resolved and why. Based on this discussion, writing assignments are made for the case. If the Chief Justice is in the majority on a case, he assigns the writing of the Court's opinion to one of the Justices in the majority or to himself. If not, the most senior justice in the majority makes the assignment. Likewise, if a dissent is to be written and joined by more than one Justice, the most senior Justice planning to join that dissent assigns the writing.
The writer of the majority opinion must try to reconcile the views of those in the majority. When the opinion draft is circulated, each Justice reads it and decides whether to join it or to ask for revisions as a condition of joining. Sometimes a Justice will write a concurring opinion subscribing to the result in the majority opinion but based on different reasons, which it provides. If there is a dissenting view, that too is written up and circulated to all the Justices. In the end the opinion for the Court may be the result of many drafts and changes. Eventually, each participating Justice will have agreed to one or more of the opinions in the case. Each term produces something like five thousand pages' worth of opinions in the United States Reports. It all adds up to a lot of paper.
Serving on the Court has provided me with a number of pleasant surprises. Some people think that the Court is full of bitter battles, and it is true that the Court's opinions sometimes include strong language. But in fact one of my earliest and most rewarding experiences on the Court, and one that I did not fully anticipate, was of the warmth, kindness, and civility of my fellow Justices. Every one of my colleagues has been very thoughtful and considerate. There have been times with some previous Courts when some members did not get along and when some animosity persisted among certain Justices. Happily, that has not been the situation during my time here. It is a particular pleasure to be able to serve in an atmosphere of respect and affection for one's colleagues.
What is quite remarkable in my view is that each and every petition for review, whether produced by a sophisticated lawyer in a high-rise or handwritten by a prison inmate or a private citizen in her home, is reviewed with care by each Justice. And every written opinion of the Court is read with utmost care and attention by every other Justice, with an eye toward refinement or improvement. The process we follow, I think, provides some reason to have faith in the nation's judicial system.
Of course, not everyone is happy with the Court's decision in any given case. After all, you have two sides only one can win. And often that unhappy party is the court below, because the Supreme Court reverses about two thirds of the lower-court decisions in those cases it reviews.
When I am not hearing oral arguments, researching and considering the law, or discussing the cases with my colleagues or my clerks, part of my time is spent dealing with a mass of correspondence. Some relates to pending cases. I ignore all such letters. Many letters are from schoolchildren who want information from me or about me. I do the best I can to process and answer these.
People often think of the Supreme Court as a remote Washington institution. State and local judges are forced by proximity to stay in touch with the concerns of those they serve. The Supreme Court, in contrast, serves a national purpose for a vast country. One might wonder, therefore, if the Court is simply a large, federal institution, distant and out of touch with the people. But in fact the Court is not a bad place from which to get some sense of the nation's concerns, or at least its national legal concerns. The more than seven thousand petitions for review each year come from all across the country and involve a very wide range of legal issues. The Court hears oral argument in cases that have their genesis in front-page actions by Congress as well as in the actions of police officers in tiny towns. The attorneys who appear before the Court, and the clients whose problems have brought them there, present a similarly broad geographical cross section.
Justices are drawn from all over the country and are a diverse group. This, in my view, is another reason to be optimistic about the Court. Diversity is its strength, just as it is the strength of America itself. In my twenty plus years on the Court, I have learned at least one lesson very vividly. A Justice is constantly called upon to try to draw some harmony from that diversity-and even to reconcile the irreconcilable.
E. B. White said, "Democracy is based on the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time."1 In the narrow view, the Supreme Court is based on the suspicion that five Justices are similarly correct. In the broader view, I think that the Justices contribute to the wider democracy. We struggle with national issues and attempt to define from a national perspective what it is that the federal laws and the Constitution say. If you don't agree with all of the Court's holdings, you are certainly not alone. But you may be confident that we never stop trying in our writings on every case on our agenda to contribute appropriately to the fragile balances of our national democracy.
From the Hardcover edition.