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At the end of last year, retired Supreme Court Judge Sandra Day O & Connor released a statement announcing that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. It was a moving moment, a memory that for decades O&C was seen as the most powerful woman in America.
Now comes an important book about her – Primo, Sandra Day O & # 39; Connor: An intimate portrait of the justice of the Supreme Court of the first woman . It is different from any other volume written on O & # 39; Connor – even the books that justice has written about itself.
For those too young to remember, O & # 39; Connor was so admired on the public scene that there were also suggestions that she was nominating for the presidency. He had no interest in this, but his vote and his approach to judgment dominated the US Supreme Court for a quarter of a century, until his retirement in 2006.
If the subject was an action affirmative, state rights, national security or abortion, his was often the voice that spoke for the court.
The author Evan Thomas opens new avenues with Primo . With extraordinary access to justice, to his papers, to his personal magazines and even to 20 years of his husband's diary, the book is, in a sense, an authorized biography. But it is much more.
It is a raw and psychologically intuitive look at the first female justice of the nation's Supreme Court, and some of its contradictory features. It was tough, overbearing, relentless and, below that, it could be emotional. In private, he wasn't afraid to cry – and he had a soft spot for others when they needed it.
Learning Lessons Early Early
O & # 39; Connor has learned to be independent and "suck" to the beginning of life. The house was his parents' ranch, the second largest in Arizona, 160,000 acres, a fifth the size of Rhode Island.
Courtesy of the O & # 39; Connor family
It was "like our country", she said. But it was a country that does not forgive without heating or running water.
She was only 6 years old when her parents sent her four hours by train to live with the less hot and cheeky grandmother of El Paso, Texas, so that she could go to a good private school.
He loved his father and he loved her too. But the author Thomas says that he was looking at his mother who learned an important lesson – one that would guide him in life while he treated the men and the world that dominated: do not bite the bait.
As the author wrote in an interview with NPR, the father of O & # 39; Connor, known as DA, "could be hard on his wife," especially after a few drinks in the evening, "And what Sandra observed was so precious to her that her mother did not exaggerate, she learned to play with it."
It was a lesson that served O 'Connor well when she was elected to the Senate of the state of Arizona, a place that author Thomas describes as "very masculine and very ugly place for a woman in 1970."
Not only men drank a lot, "sexual harassment was all 39; agenda ". Usually O & # 39; s Connor took care of this by simply moving away. "He was not a feminist arch," says Thomas. And, in relatively short order, O & # 39; Connor was elected majority leader.
However, sometimes enough was enough.
One of those times involved Tom Goodwin, the chairman of the Arizona House appropriations committee. Thomas describes him as "a drunken drunk for 10: 00 am." And when O & # 39; Connor finally confronted Goodwin about it, he growled at her "If I were a man, I'd punch you in the nose," to which she replied, "if you were a man you could"  Was " smarter than men "and more organized," says Thomas. But after five years, he left the legislature to become a state court judge
Lucky Timing – And a small field of contenders
O & # 39; Connor served for four years in the court trial, then two on an intermediate level court of appeal.
Not exactly a springboard for the Supreme Court.
But when Ronald Reagan, running his election campaign, wanted to appoint a woman to the supreme court for the first time there were not many conservative judges to choose from. And O & # 39; Connor had friends at the top, including Judge William Rehnquist, who had gone with her to Stanford Law School, he was courting and proposing them – a fact unknown to the children O & # 39; Connor and Rehnquist up to & # 39 ; author Thomas
On 7 July 1981, President Reagan, after having met privately with O & # 39; Connor, announced his appointment.
Getting ready for the confirmation hearing was daunting. He had no experience with constitutional law or federal court practice. And she was getting crazy like crazy.
"He had an incredible ability to absorb information quickly and keep it and go for what mattered," notes Thomas. "He could pass through thousands of pages of dense and turgid legal material" and get to the "fast" point.
The young clerk of the Justice Department assigned to help O & # 39; Connor was a John G. Roberts Jr., who would be decades later become the chief justice of the United States. But at that time, he simply couldn't keep up with O & # 39; s Connor, he wasn't able to get the information he wanted fast enough.
So he formed his team in Arizona to supplement what he was receiving in Washington. It was, as Thomas writes, "an unstoppable grind". But at the confirmation hearings, the first one ever sent, it was a sensation, he answered the questions skillfully, knowingly and skilfully avoided political holes and tricks on abortion and other controversial topics.
The public loved it and she was confirmed From 99 to 0.
& # 39; The Glue & # 39; Of The Court
Much has been written about how terrified O & Connor was when he joined the Supreme Court. While putting it in an interview with NPR, "Everybody said: & # 39; Oh, we're so glad you're here now let me know if I can help you out. I didn't even know the questions to ask to get the # 39; help I needed … We had more mail than we could have opened ". He knew that every misstep could be fatal to women's prospects across the country. As he often said, "It's nice to be the first, but you don't want to be the last."
Less known is how hilarious it was to play in the largest and most exclusive legal league in the country, a place where you could make a difference.
Courtesy of the O & # 39; Connor family
Even less well known is the role he played in putting the court together. When he arrived, only four of the nine judges appeared at the weekly lunches of the judges. And O & # 39; Connor is about to change it.
"He knew from his own experience that breaking bread together is really a way to make people know each other and made sure the judges presented themselves for lunch," says the author Thomas. "He appeared in their rooms and just sat there until they came with her."
Perhaps his most difficult recruitment was Clarence Thomas, who arrived in the fall of 1991 after a confirmation hearing by launching sexual harassment charges  "His first day, Thomas, feeling gloomy and alone, he is walking down the hallway when O & # 39; s Connor approaches him and tells him "those hearings were very harmful." The next day he shows up again and she says, "You have to come to lunch." But he doesn't want to "She wants to be alone. The next day, she is back," says the author Thomas, and she says, "Clarence, you have to come for lunch." And in the end he does, and he said, "you know for me made all the difference, I went from loneliness and alone to come to lunch ". A little simple, but he joined the group because he realized that life must continue, this group must go to agreement and made him understand. "
In fact, the author cites Judge Thomas who tells him that O & # 39; Connor" was the glue … that made this place civil. "
She remained committed to this role throughout her career as an associate justice. She held her head high and would not let the parasites reach her.When Judge Antonin Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion belittling his work, he refused to answer politely, erasing the gypsies who his employees added in order to draft their opinions in response.
His meeting with breast cancer was the only time she almost gave in. "He terrified her and briefly surrendered: he didn't want treatment, he didn't want to try to beat him, he only accepted that she would die, "says Thomas.
This unusual attack on himself – The doubt lasted a day and then, as he always did, she sucked him. He started going to gym class he never lost a day in court ale; she was out dancing within 10 days of the intervention.
Once again, it became "that formidable Sandra Day O & # 39; Connor," notes Thomas.
O & # 39; Connor would have been the solitary woman on the field for 12 years. In 1993, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed by President Clinton.
"By the time Justice Ginsburg arrived, the media pressure was off, I think for both of them," said O & Connor in an interview with the NPR. "We have just become two of the nine judges and it was such a welcome change, it was great."
A realist, not a great theorist
Although O & # 39; Connor was a conservative justice, she was not doctrinaire. As the author Thomas and countless others have observed, he was "a realist". On the abortion, for example, in the end it prevailed, cutting Roe v again. Wade, so that states could issue significant regulations.
But far from all the regulations. When, for example, he came to a Pennsylvania law that forced women to notify their husbands before aborting, he said he was going too far. It is an "excessive burden" on a woman's right to end a pregnancy.
"He came from the real world and knew that husbands could be violent with their wives", explains the author Thomas. Asking a woman to tell a drunk or violent husband who was planning to have an abortion could end up with the woman being beaten or worse. As Thomas says, "This was not a theoretical thing".
He tried to weave an equally realistic legal path on the subject of race and affirmative action. As noted by the author Thomas, O & # 39; Connor did not like racial preferences or identity policies. He wrote important opinions, annulling the racial division in government procurement and in designing legislative districts.
But she "understood" that if the country was going to produce several leaders in the law, in politics and in the armed forces, in universities and universities they had to be able to shape admissions systems to get racial minorities into numbers big enough to reflect society in general. And so in the end he supported the affirmative action programs in the higher education, but not the quotas.
These types of balancing tests are not embraced by today's brand of stubborn conservative judges and legal theorists. They ignore these decisions as unfaithful to the intentions of the founding fathers and the proper role of the courts.
O & # 39; Connor does not agree.
"It examined the impact of the court on life, and that is what mattered more than an abstract judicial theory," says Thomas.
The Perfect "First"
Courtesy of the O & # 39; Connor family
Conservative, moderate and liberal observers agree on one aspect of the service of Sandra Day O & # 39; Connor. It was the perfect first. The author Thomas cites a lawyer who calls O & # 39; Connor "the feminist non-feminist".
"Several people have told me that the irony here is that this somewhat traditional woman was more effective in the cause of women's rights because she was not threatening and because she was practical and knew when to do a step back, but he also knew when to come forward, "says Thomas.
If he was triumphant in his career in the Supreme Court, however, he came to regret the end of that career in the field. The story of his decision to leave the apex of his influence and ability is, by all accounts, tragic.
The author Thomas sets the stage for what is to come, stressing that O & # 39; s Connor for years held an unstoppable social program, partly for her husband John, who had been "a great lawyer" in Phoenix , but it was a second professional banana for his wife in Washington.
He was able to change role, however, to be a more traditional wife at parties, where John O & Connor was often the star as he sat. He was notoriously fun, funny and charming, "a social lion" who could "show off" even on the dance floor. So his wife continued to make a sometimes hectic social program for him, even if it meant she would be home late at night, to work hours to complete.
In the 2000s, however, John had begun to have memory problems. The early Alzheimer's has turned into "rabies" of Alzheimer's, says Thomas. Soon justice began to take John with him to the rooms every day, trying to deal with him personally. But he got to the point where he realized he just couldn't do it. As Thomas says, "He said he sacrificed for me when we came here, now it's my turn."
"So she quit the courtroom before she was ready," says Thomas. "It was tragic because within six months of his leaving the court, he could barely recognize her." And ended up in an assisted living facility where he formed an attachment to another woman.
The newly retired Justice O "Connor" would come in and find her husband holding hands with this other woman, and with his characteristic strength he would sit and take the other hand of husband. "
With the knowledge of hindsight, O & # 39; Connor regretted his decision to leave the court, saying to the author Thomas that he was" the biggest mistake, the most stupid I've ever done. " In the immediate aftermath of his retirement, he looked with dismay when President George W. Bush elevated Samuel Alito to replace her. Alito, when he was in a lower court, had expressly voted to support an anti-abortion provision in Pennsylvania that required women to notify their husbands if they planned to have an abortion. Alito said that expert testimony failed to show how many women faced a real threat of violence if their abusive husbands learned of an abortion. But for O & # 39; Connor, the vision of Alito was not only dangerous for the safety of the women who lived with an abusive wife, and their children, distorted his words to make the point he wanted.
Once in the camp Alito would, in fact, be a reliable conservative vote against abortion rights, and would provide a fifth vote for a new and much more conservative majority of the court that would overturn or undermine the other decisions of which O & # 39 ; Connor was proud – even on the electoral campaign financing reform. Observing this pushed O & # 39; Connor to complain privately, Thomas says the new court was "systematically dismantling my inheritance".