Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has released a letter to the public about her declining health. O’Connor is rightly admired for her inspiring life story and unswerving loyalty to the highest civic principles as well as the ideals of the judiciary. Even at this difficult moment of her life, as the letter shows, she is intent on advancing the res publica.
That O’Connor was the swing Justice of her day did not mean that her role on the Court came down to trimming or compromise. Together with fellow Arizonan Rehnquist, no one was more central in the Court’s reinvigoration of federalism, drawing on her record as the only Justice of our era with extensive service in a state legislature. She has led public discussion in the right direction on issues ranging from professional responsibility and race and redistricting to judicial elections.
And as I noted in 2005, if a single jurist deserves our thanks for helping turn back what had seemed like an irresistible trend toward ever more litigiousness in the civil justice system, it is she. “More vocally than any of her present colleagues, Justice O’Connor sounded the alarm against what she’s termed ‘the increasing, and on many levels frightening, overlegalization of everyday life in our country today.'” Her leading role on such issues as due process review of punitive damages reflected that view. For that, as well as for her notice of my work along the way, count me among the grateful.