Sandra Day O'Connor lightens up a little
<B>Sandra Day O'Connor lightens up a little</B>
John Riggins, the pro football player, once embarrassed himself and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with a comment he made while in his cups sitting next to her at a Washington fund-raiser. "Lighten up, Sandy Baby," he was alleged to have said. The frosty reply of the first woman in history to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court is not recorded. <B>The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice</B>, Sandra Day O'Connor's new book, reflects her serious side, but it's written in a light, informative and elegantly simple style. Not only informative to laymen and lawyers alike it's elevating, and the author's dedication and love of the law shines through on every page. O'Connor has divided the book into six parts, with sections focusing on history, women in law, and law in the 21st century, among other topics. Particularly interesting is her selection of seven past members of the court who she feels made notable contributions to the court and the judicial system. Although Oliver Wendell Holmes is on the list, there are others who might surprise the reader. One in this category is Chief Justice Warren Burger, who has never enjoyed particularly good standing among the academics who write about the court. Justice Lewis Powell is profiled for his personal traits. "For those who seek a model of human kindness, decency, exemplary behavior, and integrity, there will never be a better man," O'Connor writes. Thurgood Marshall is the raconteur, Holmes the giant in the area of individual rights, William Howard Taft (the only former president to sit on the court) the great and politic chief justice often overshadowed by John Marshall, and Charles Evans Hughes the chief justice who helped defeat the Roosevelt court-packing plan. <B>The Majesty of the Law</B> contains a number of interesting details. We learn, for instance, that the bas-relief of Chief Justice Marshall in a dining room of the Supreme Court was actually sculpted by Justice Burger. We also find out that the justices shake hands before sitting to hear cases each day.
In one sense, reading this book is a bittersweet experience. O'Connor articulately and eloquently describes the workings of the system of justice we enjoy. She explores judicial principles and administrative aspects of the Supreme Court, and gives her views on leading judicial figures. She discusses the lack of civility in the current legal profession. What she does not do and what no sitting Supreme Court justice in our times has ever done is "talk out of school" and tell us some of the things we're dying to know. What was it like behind the scenes when the Bush v. Gore decision was made? Does she have any regrets regarding that decision? Is the current ideological split on the court uncomfortable? Does she want to be chief justice and, if not, who does she think would be best for the job? We may never get her answers to those questions, at least as long as she sits on the court. This is O'Connor's second venture into writing a book. Her memoir <I>Lazy B</I>, an account of her childhood on a large Arizona ranch, revealed a compact but engaging writing style that she employs to advantage in this book as well. Simple, straightforward and never turgid, <B>The Majesty of the Law</B> makes interesting reading for anyone with a desire to know our court system better. <I>R. Dobie Langenkamp is an attorney and professor of law at the University of Tulsa College of Law.</I>