Thursday, September 25, 2008

Meeting the Supreme Court Justices

How many people can say that they met Supreme Court Justices!!???!!!

Last week, Lewis & Clark had two very exciting visitors: Supreme Court Justice Kennedy and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Each Justice had a one hour long question and answer session with the law student. I attended both. Ok, so maybe that wasn't exactly "meeting" the Justices, but it sure was close enough for me!

Former Justice O'Connor's responses to questions were mostly anecdotal and not substantive, which was sort of disappointing. I understand that there are many topics about which the justices and former justices cannot speak, due to ethical and professionalism considerations. However, there are many substantive topics about which the Justices can speak. I think part of the problem was that a lot of the questions from the audience weren't designed to elicit substantive responses. And since I didn't ask any questions, at all, I probably shouldn't complain!

Although anecdotal, O'Connor's session was still interesting because her life is interesting. Originally from Arizona, she graduated from Stanford law school in the early 50's. Former Chief Justice Rehnquist was in her law school class (rumor has it she briefly dated him). O'Connor graduated at the top of her class, but could not find employment as an attorney. At that time, there were no legal positions for women, except as a secretary. O'Connor was offered a secretarial position at a firm, but turned it down. Hearing that the county attorney had previously hired a woman, O'Connor went to him for a job, but he did not have enough money in his budget, or room in his office space, to hire anyone new. After meeting with him, O'Connor wrote him a letter, begging for a job, and stating that she would work for free, and share space with his secretary. He accepted, and that was her first position out of law school. Shortly thereafter, she followed her husband to Germany. Upon returning to the states a couple of years later, she again couldn't find a job because of her gender. So, she opened up her own firm (four years or so out of law school) and did that, until her nanny moved away and she decided to stay home with her children.

Fast forward a bit, and she was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court in 1981. At that time, there were only 8 Justices, who were evenly divided. If the Court's decision was tied, the appealed decision became the binding outcome, but with no precedential value. Justice O'Connor said that the Court seemed happy to have a ninth, and didn't much care that it was a woman. She also said that she didn't feel particularly well equipped for the task, since she had little experience in the federal law arena.

Justice Kennedy spoke the next day. I've never known much about him, and after Rapanos, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I certainly didn't expect him to be as incredibly articulate, charming, funny, and inspirational as he was. He poked some good fun at Scalia, which was well received at our uber liberal law school. When asked about his characterization as a "swing vote," he responded that he is completely consistent, and that everyone else swings around him. There were several points during the session where he had people doubled over in laughter. He was the kind of person you would want to have over for dinner, if you weren't so indimated by how smart he is. And when asked about animal rights (which is big at L & C), he responded thoughtfully, but also reminded us that human rights are shrinking as we speak. His closing words were "we have a lot to do."

I'll tell you what: it is an interesting time to be going back to school. I'm glad I have this opportunity.

1 comment:


Justice O'Connor's talk inspired me to want to be a female attorney.