Meryl Justin Chertoff is the director of the Institute’s Justice and Society Program and former director of the Sandra Day O’Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown Law.
Retired Supreme Court Justice and Aspen Institute Lifetime Trustee Sandra Day O’Connor visited the Institute’s DC office recently to celebrate the publication of her fifth book, Out of Order (see more details and photos from the event here). The Justice offered an intimate look at her years on the Court and her pursuits during an active retirement.
A frequent visitor to the Institute’s summer programs, O’Connor has spoken both at the Ideas Festival and at the seminar run by the Justice and Society Program, which hosted the evening event. She is an avid fisherman, and has learned the best spots for trout in Aspen. In the words of Aspen Institute Trustee Berl Bernhard, who introduced her, she is “a monument to the best of our society.”
We helped catch the audience up with the Justice’s doings since her 2006 retirement from the Court. “I’ve gotten very busy trying to teach young people their role in society,” said O’Connor of her involvement in the interactive civics education program for middle school students, iCivics. “We are reaching 40 million children a day. I’ve kept it free so schools can use it.”
The Court’s history is a recurring theme in all three of O’Connor’s books for adults (she has also written two children’s books). As in Out of Order, during the evening event she recounted the practice of circuit-riding in the early day of the Court, noting, “I am so glad I wasn’t part of the early days of the Court. It was very hard …they had to go on horse and buggy to each circuit. They got to come back to DC to sit and hear cases, but then went back out again.”
Asked about the relationship the Justices have to each other off the clock, she recalled that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg’s late husband Marty “was a gourmet cook. He and I cooked meals together,” she said. “[As a memorial] some of the members and the spouses got together to create a cookbook.”
I asked why, with all she had to do, O’Connor had hosted dinners for her fellow Justices. To laughter from the crowd, she said, “You want to get together sometimes for something that affects all of the members of the court. …The Supreme Court is a pretty great place to have a party—and if you can make the food, it doesn’t cost much.”
O’Connor, who studied writing at Stanford with the great novelist Wallace Stegner and thought “he was just wonderful,” offered this observation to the many law students and other younger audience members who had flocked to hear her: “I can’t think of anything I’d rather be than a better writer.”
To the Aspen crowd who have enjoyed her stories, her new book, and her landmark opinions in majority and dissent during the Court years, her writing is a treasure.