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Sandra Day was born on March 26, 1930 in El Paso, Texas to Harry and Ada Mae, owners of the Lazy-B-Cattle ranch in Southeastern Arizona, where Sandra grew up (United States Supreme Court 2003) as an only child until she was eight. In those early years, her family lived in isolation and with strained resources. The ranch did not have electricity and running water until she was seven years old and their nearest neighbors lived 25 miles away. Her loneliness forced her to make friends with the ranch's cowboys and pets. She read vigorously, learned to drive at seven, could fire rifles and rode horses well. Because the hardiness of the ranch prevented her from attaining a formal education, her parents sent Sandra to her maternal grandmother in El Paso (U.S. Supreme Court). Her grandmother was Mamie Scott Wilkey.
She went to the Radford School for girls from kindergarten to high school. But she grew so homesick that she stopped and returned to Arizona after a year. Despite the adjustment, Sandra obtained good marks at 16. She gives the credit of her accomplishment to her grandmother's confidence in her capability as her motivation and driving force in not admitting defeat (U.S. Supreme Court).
She later took up a course with a major on economics at Stanford University with the intention of using that knowledge in operating a ranch of her own or the Lazy-B ranch itself. When her family encountered a dispute over the ranch, she began to have an interest in law and enrolled at the Stanford Law School after finishing baccalaureate degree in economics, magna cum laude, in 1950. Instead of the traditional three years, she took only two to finish law and then served as editor of the Stanford Law Review until she became a member of the Order of the Coif, a legal honor society (U.S. Supreme Court). She met John O'Connor at this time, who was then also attending law school. Sandra graduated from law school in 1952, again with honors as third in a class of 102. The first placer was William H. Rehnquist, who was to be the Chief Justice. Then she and John were married.
II. No law firm wanted to take Sandra in, except one, which accepted her as a legal secretary (Hedding 2004). But the senior partner of this firm, William French Smith, was destined to help Sandra's nomination years later to the Supreme Court as the Attorney General. Disappointed over scanty prospects, Sandra took on a public service position as deputy county attorney for San Mateo, California (Hedding). When John graduated a year later from Stanford University, he was drafted into the Judge Advocate General Corps and served in Frankfurt, Germany for three years. Sandra joined him in Germany as a civilian lawyer in the Quartermaster's Corps.
In 1957, they decided to return to the U.S. And settle in Phoenix, Arizona, where their three sons were born that year, in 1960 and 1962. Despite her excellent academic records, she found it difficult to find a job as a lawyer, as did other women (Hedding) at that time. She could not land a position with a law firm, so she decided to start her own firm with a single partner. She worked on many small cases because she then lacked specialization as well as an established reputation. She then withdrew temporarily to care for her sons and got involved in volunteer activities with the Arizona State Hospital, the Arizona State Bar, the Salvation Army and local schools, as well as the Arizona Republic Party.
Five years later, she resumed work as an assistant state attorney general in Arizona. When a state senator vacated a seat for an appointment in Washington DC, Arizona Governor Jack Williams appointed Sandra to that vacancy in 1969. She occupied the position and successfully carried out her functions and, afterwards, defended to retain it for two more terms of two years each. Then, she became the majority leader - the first for any woman in the U.S. (Hedding). In 1974, she decided to run for judgeship on the Maricopa County Superior Court and declined the urging of state Republican leaders for her to run for governor in 1978, instead. She was elected to the Maricopa County Superior Court. A year later, the newly elected Democratic Governor Bruce Babbitt nominated her to the Arizona Court of Appeals and, in less than two years, President Ronald Reagan nominated her as the first woman in the Supreme Court and to replace the then retiring Justice Potter Stewart (Hedding). President Reagan wanted to fulfill his commitment to place or include women in high places of authority and importance. Sandra, an unknown, impressed him, although she spent most of her life in the West and never served in the federal judiciary.
Conservative groups were not too happy about this appointment. They remembered Sandra's moderate position on the abortion issue in the past. In the hearing for her appointment, Sandra was not coerced into revealing how she would vote if a repeal of the abortion law were put before her nor into speculating on any other issue (Hedding). The Judiciary Committee voted 17 to 1 and the Senate voted 99 to 0 in confirming her new post in the Tribunal. In anticipation, the Court changed its use of the formal and traditional address, "Mr. Justice," to the simpler and gender-neutral "Justice."
III. Her first major case was in 1982 about sex discrimination and she decided that a student could not be rejected from a nursing school because of his gender. But the Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services case of 1989 drew more attention to her. The case was to restrict access to abortions in certain cases and Sandra's was the deciding vote, which was 5 to 4 in favor of giving states the right to make specific abortion decisions (Hedding). The Conservatives hoped that her vote would weigh down restrict abortion practices and lead to the repeal of the Rose vs. Wade decision. But Sandra did not give in to their hopes.
In her early years in the Tribunal, observers held that Sandra was part of the Court's conservative faction, specifically through her association with Rehnquist, who shared her roots and values (U.S. Supreme Court). In her next few terms, however, Sandra proved that she had her own unique position in the Court. Although she appeared to commonly side with conservatives, she also frequently concurred to narrow down the scope of the majority's opinion.
Conservatives criticized her lack of federal judicial experience and constitutional knowledge (U.S. Supreme Court). They saw her nomination as a waste and were ever suspicious of her position on abortion. But the Liberals rejoiced at having a woman in the High Court, although they were displeased with her lack of sympathy for feminist causes. Eventually, Sandra came up with her own response to all the criticisms in the form of her own brand of pragmatic and centrist-oriented conservatism, which even the Liberals, who once called her a traitor in her early terms because of her compromise with abortion, began to appreciate her efforts to maintain the pro-choice slant of the Roe vs. Wade decision. Sandra was thereafter seen as resorting to practical solutions with the tendency to moderate and enhance her importance in an often-unstable and splintered Tribunal (U.S. Supreme Court).
Nancy Maveety's book, "Justice Sandra Day O'Connor: Strategist on the Supreme Court," tries to derive and offer a valid explanation for the voting and writing choices Sandra made and to reveal her strategic role in forming coalitions and shaping Court doctrines (Cook 1997). Sandra was only a seat away from the senior justice position and Maveety believes that she should take that risk of analyzing the jurisprudence of sitting justices. In the process, she encountered a rigid and formal jurisprudence and stubborn ideological dispositions faced by those who earlier explored this field. The author and other scholars who studied Sandra's court behavior agreed that her gender identity was not related or behind her strict rejection of feminist psychologists' and jurisprudents' idea of a "different voice (Cook)." Not even her state-level political experience proved to be the foundation for her jurisprudential theory or style, rather that it was precisely her broken career that provided the basis for her un-theoretical, nonconformist and pragmatic jurisprudence approach. In comparison, her fellow sitting justices, like Robert Sickels and John Paul Stevens were more predictable and more easily discerned, because they followed the required and familiar route to the bench. Sandra could only zigzag through and take full advantage of the limited opportunities that presented themselves to her as a married woman with children. Author Maveety saw Sandra as adapting to new life situations and taking on new roles and, in that process, worked out compromises according to the demands on her time and capabilities (Cook).
In her marriage, Sandra balanced and played out a unique complement f conventional and liberated female roles. She verbalized this balance in her hearings, during…[continue]
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