News / USA

Pioneering US Supreme Court Justice Wants More Women, Diversity on Court

Carolyn Weaver

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor says she would like to see another woman join Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor on the Court, if Justice John Paul Stevens does decide to step down this year, as he has recently hinted he will.

O'Connor said she doesn't believe that different life experiences or sensibilities of women judges result in different decisions. "I think at the end of the day, a wise old woman and a wise old man are going to come to the same conclusion", she said.

Speaking at New York Law School on Tuesday, O'Connor, who in 1981 became the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, said she also hoped for more diversity of professional backgrounds among future justices. All those now on the Court were nominated when they were serving on lower federal courts.

As for Justice Stevens, who is about to turn 90, she said, "He's been a very fine member of the court. He's so remarkable - even older than I am, and I'm awfully old. And he's very physically and mentally fit."

O'Connor also weighed in, albeit in a carefully judicial manner, on the flap over President Obama's criticism of a recent Supreme Court ruling at his January State of the Union address. Referring to the Court's 5-4 decision lifting most restraints on corporate and union spending in political campaigns, Mr. Obama told members of Congress and other dignitaries, including six Supreme Court Justices:

"With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections," said President Obama. "Well, I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities."

As Mr. Obama spoke, Justice Samuel Alito appeared to silently mouth the words "Not true."

O'Connor declined to comment on the propriety of either the President's criticism or on Justice Alito's response. But she predicted scarcer attendance by Justices at future State of the Union addresses.

O'Connor said "It is not much fun to go, because you put on a black robe and march in, and you're seated on the front row, your hands in the lap, you have no expression on your face, throughout the proceedings. You can clap when the president comes in and when he leaves and that's it, and it's very awkward."

She added, "I wouldn't be surprised if fewer justices attended in the future. There are always people who thought, 'Oh, do we have to go? Let's don't.'"

The decision in the campaign spending case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, overturned much of a significant ruling that Justice O'Connor herself helped to craft in 2003, McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. And it bears upon a post-retirement cause: Since she left the Court in 2006, O'Connor has spoken out against the election of state judges, the method of selection in many states.

In her remarks in New York, O'Connor again urged an end to the practice, saying that if Supreme Court Justices had to stand for election and re-election they never would have voted to end school segregation or anti-miscegenation laws, as they did in Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia.

In answer to another question, she discussed the decline in recent years in the number of cases accepted for review by the Supreme Court. If fewer cases are now being accepted, she said, "You ought to be grateful. The courts can really mess things up."

O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served 25 years before retiring to care for her husband, who died last year. The Texas-born justice, who turned 80 in March, referred to herself as just an unemployed cowgirl. But she has remained busy, serving as chancellor of the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and working to improve civic education in American public schools. The web site of that program,, includes educational games aimed at children and teenagers

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs