Women's History Month

A Chat with Sandra Day O’Connor

TFK talks to the former Supreme Court justice

March 25, 2013
LAUREN SAUL

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Bridget Bernardo visit the Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

From the moment I arrived in Philadelphia, my excitement and anticipation grew as my dream interview inched closer to reality. I couldn't believe it. I was about to have lunch with my hero, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In 1981, O’Connor made history when she became the first woman on the United States Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor retired in 2005, but she remains very active. This month, she's been traveling around the country to promote her new book, Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. Her book tour included a visit to Philadephia, Pennsylvania, on March 16 for a special event at the National Constitution Center. Earlier that day, over lunch, we discussed the justice's life after the court and what she describes as her most important project: a Web-based program called iCivics that was designed to teach kids about how federal, state and local governments work.

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stands in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, in Washington, D.C., in September 1981-shortly after being appointed the country's first female Supreme Court justice.
DAVID HUME KENNERLY—GETTY IMAGES
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor stands in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, in Washington, D.C., in September 1981-shortly after being appointed the country's first female Supreme Court justice.

TFK:

First, I want to thank you for letting me join you for lunch. It’s a dream come true. I’m sure the TIME for Kids readers will love reading about you and iCivics too.

JUSTICE SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR:

Isn’t it great? [Your] school should be using iCivics. It is fabulous and lots of fun, and [kids] learn incredible amounts.

TFK:

You said iCivics is the most important thing you’ve ever done. Why?

O'CONNOR:

Because it is teaching, I hope, several generations of young people how they are going to be good citizens. I think that’s the most important thing there is.

TFK:

Why should kids learn about civics?

O'CONNOR:

Because I think it’s critically important that everybody understand how our government works and how we’re each part of it . . . It matters and it matters for your whole life, so I just think it’s very, very important.

TFK:

I saw that iCivics just released a new writing program called Drafting Board. Why?

O'CONNOR:

There is nothing more important than learning how to write.

TFK:

One of the games on iCivics is called Executive Command, where you can be the President. If you were President and your chief justice had just retired, what qualities would you look for in a nominee for the new chief justice?

O'CONNOR:

I would want somebody who had considerable experience so I could look back and see what kind of job they do. I want to know what kind of opinions they write, what decisions they’re making. You would find out everything you could. You’d want to check all the newspaper reports about the person and all the information you can get from respected leaders. That’s an important appointment.

TFK:

You retired from the Supreme Court in 2005. Why are you still so busy?

O'CONNOR:

Because I have a lot of energy. That’s why.

Kid Reporter
Bridget Bernardo

TFK:

I watched Chief Justice Roberts’ introduction to his confirmation hearing, and he compared being a judge to being an umpire.

O'CONNOR:

There is a lot more to being a judge than being an umpire. You have to make very challenging decisions sometimes. Sometimes based on facts, sometimes on the law, and . . . it’s hard. Umpires just have to make instant calls: you’re in or you’re out, he hit it or he didn’t. A judge [has] to weigh options and weigh arguments on both sides and make very technical, complicated decisions.

TFK:

I know you were the first woman to hold a legislative leadership position. Do you think that made you a better judge?

O'CONNOR:

Sure. I certainly saw the ins and outs of legislation.

TFK:

What is your advice to kids?

O'CONNOR:

Learn all you can. Be a good reader. There is no limit to what you can learn if you’re a good reader.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor writes about the history of the Supreme Court in her new book, Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court.
DON HEINY FOR TIME FOR KIDS
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor writes about the history of the Supreme Court in her new book, Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court.

TFK:

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a Supreme Court justice?

O'CONNOR:

The biggest challenge is to be able to feel that you have performed well.  That you’ve been able to do the work in a fair and decent way and that you’ve helped the cause of justice. That’s what you want—to have a good feeling about what you’ve done. That’s true of anything you try to do. You want to feel at the end of the day you’ve done the best you could and have really performed as well as could be expected.

TFK:

You’re on the board of the National Constitution Center. I’m going to tour the museum. What is one thing I have to see there?

O'CONNOR:

The room with all the people who signed the Constitution. You’re right in there with them, and they’re life-size. There you are walking around with all those people. It’s just absolutely unbelievable.

TFK:

Who is your favorite founding father?

O'CONNOR:

Madison. Because he wrote the Constitution. He was the best by far.

Click here to read Bridget's report on her tour of the National Constitution Center.


Current subscribers log in/register for timeforkids.com 

Registered Users Log In

 
 
Forgot Password?
Register Now for FREE
Subscriber Benefits
Do it now to get all this:
  • Access to Interactive Digital Editions
  • Online Archives of Past Lessons & Teachers' Guides
  • Interactive Teacher Community
Website Login Page