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Her honor: the rancher's daughter.

In 1981 Sandra Day O'Connor made history when she was sworn in as the first female justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Not surprisingly, the eight "brethren" weren't too sure what to expect from her appointment. One thing they found was that the new justice already had a leg up on the job.

Justice O'Connor arrives at the Supreme Court bright and early every morning, along with several other court employees, to take an aerobics class from a local YWCA instructor. Sporting a leotard, the justice throws herself totus corpus into various stretches, extensions, twists, head rolls and leg lifts.

"I think physical fitness is enormously important to your capacity to do mental fitness work; to do the work that I do here at the Court," says Justice O'Connor. "I'm more productive with my work when I feel good physically, so when I came to the Court I decided that I wanted to continue the practice I had started in Arizona, an exercise class every morning early. Through the Y we were able to get a young woman to be an instructor, and we set up a little class here at the Court." Sorry, no men allowed. There's only one shower room at the Supreme Court. "The class is open to all the women employees," says the justice, "and it's something that I manage to do just about every morning."

As the first female on the Supreme court, she feels an enormous responsibility to do her job well so that people will recognize that women properly belong in this and similar jobs. "It's been touching to see how women of all ages have responded to the appointment of a woman in this Court," she says, "with an outpouring of appreciation that it happened and a feeling of encouragement that the appointment gave them."

Sitting back in her office chair, the vivacious 55-year-old justice (6 years younger than the next youngest of the "brethren") reflects on her childhood and the encouragement she received from her family. Growing up on the sprawling "Lazy B" ranch in harsh, sun-baked southeastern Arizona made her life more of a challenge. Because her sister and her brother were much younger, she grew up as a virtual single child. Her early childhood companions consisted of her parents, cowboys and a large assortment of animals, including a large bobcat ("when he purred you could hear him all over the house") and a few javelina hogs. For entertainment, the young Sandra Day would ride horses and read. She also learned to drive a car on the ranch at age seven and could handle a truck and a tractor at ten. As she explains it, no other entertainment was really available besides working on the ranch. "My mother said that before I could walk, one of the cowboys, of whom I was particularly fond, would take me riding with him sitting on the saddle. I always loved horses; that was an important part of my childhood. The other thing, I guess, was reading, because there weren't that many people of my age around; none, in fact, unless I brought them to visit. I would read a lot because my parents had many books, many more than most people in that area."

Justice O'Connor recalls with a laugh the "mad dash" by everyone in the family for each week's Saturday Evening Post. "It was funny," she says, "to see members of the family clamoring to read a serial or trying to read a cartoon. When I think about it, reading meant so much more to us, living out where we did."

Living on the ranch, however, had its drawbacks. When it came time for Sandra to go to school, the choices were limited. Because there were no schools in the area, "my parents had to make a decision," she remembers. "My mother's mother was living in El Paso, Texas, and so my family chose to send me to live with her. I lived with grandmother from kindergarten through high school, except for one year. She was a wonderful person--very supportive of me. She would always tell me that I could do anything I wanted to do. She was convinced of that, and it was very encouraging. I was as close to my grandmother as to my mother. I was lucky having two such loving, affectionate mothers."

When she was 16, Sandra Day graduated from high school and headed west to enroll in Stanford University, where she majored in economics. At that time, she had no thought of lawyering, but rather of owning and managing a ranch of her own or possibly of running the Lazy B with her family. Then, in her senior year, she took a law course--and the die was cast. She entered Stanford Law School as a full-time student. In six years (instead of the usual seven) she graduated from both college and law school (third in her class in the latter) and met her future husband, John Jay O'Connor.

By 1952, Sandra Day, 22 years old, was looking forward to getting married and practicing law in California. Only one problem stood in her way: She couldn't find a job. It was not for lack of qualifications, poise or ambition, but rather that no law firms were interested in hiring a woman, As a lawyer, she did receive one offer for a position as a legal secretary. (Ironically, one firm that turned her down, Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, subsequently had a partner by the name of William French Smith. Twenty-nine years later, as attorney general of the United States, he contacted Sandra Day O'Connor about ... a possible opening in the Supreme Court!)

Not disheartened, she succeeded in getting work as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, California--her first opportunity to work in the public sector. "It was a wonderful job," she remembers. "I think that in public employment one often gets more responsibility earlier than one does in the private sector. It influenced the balance of my life because it demonstrated how much I did enjoy public service."

The job, however, was a short-term affair. Soon after her newlywed husband graduated from law school, he was drafted to serve as an army lawyer in Frankfurt, Germany. Sandra Day O'Connor gave up her position and followed her husband to frankfurt, where she again entered public service as a civilian lawyer for the Quartermaster's Corps.

Not until 1957, when the couple moved back to the States and settled in Phoenix, Arizona, did the young lawyer try private practice. Again unable to find an opening in a law firm, she this time started her own firm with a partner.

Of her private practice, the justice says, "We did whatever business we could get to come our way. We had a diverse, small-town type of practice. We took landlord-tenant, domestic, small-business and even criminal appointments on occasion to help pay the rent. It was very challenging because I lacked the experience in those days to handle a broad range of problems."

At the same time, John and Sandra O'Connor were starting their family. In six years they had three sons, Scott, Brian and Jay, each two years apart. Although she managed to continue working in her law practice after her first son was born, the young mother decided to stop working for a time after the arrival of her second son. "It's not easy to work when you have smaller children at home to take care of," she says. "I actually stopped work when you have smaller children at home to take care of," she says. "I actually stopped work for about five years and stayed home with the children when they were really small. During those years, I did continue to do some volunteer work, but primarily I stayed home for that interval.

"Two things were clear to me from the onset, I think," the justice says. "One is, I wanted a family, and the second was that I wanted to work--and I love to work. I always have, and I just never thought about living my life without being in the work force in some way. It just didn't occur to me that I wouldn't. I was very fortunate in my life to have some opportunities to do work which was particularly interesting. I might not have felt the same way if the work hand't been so interesting, but for me it always was."

When eventually she went back to work, it was to a job with flexible hours that allowed her to be with her family when necessary. Asked how she managed to rear her three boys and maintain a busy career, the justice replies, "It wasn't easy. I think what it does is force you to be very efficient both at home and at work. You have to give up a lot of social activities that you might otherwise engage in, and you don't have time for much else except keeping your household going and doing your job."

And how did the boys fare through all of this? "I think our children grew up expecting me to be working. Because I wasn't always available to them, they had to learn to manage some things on their own and to be a bit more independent than they might otherwise have been. I think in the long run that's an advantage.

"I have a couple of examples, to prove where I think that they managed very well," explains Justice O'Connor. "One day while I was at work, our much-loved dog apparently wandered away from home and was struck by an automobile. The dog somehow dragged his poor, horribly injured body back to the house. When our children found him, they had to solve the problem immediately. Because I was not available they had to be resourceful. So they found an old door, took it off the hinges and made a stretcher for the dog and carried him to the veterinarian for treatment.

"On another occasion I was again unavailable when the children discovered a swarm of bees in our house. I guess a quenn bee found a little way in through the siding, and the whole bee colony followed. When the children discovered what had happened, they were marvelous. They got the yellow pages to the phone book and called and called until they found a beekeeper who wanted the bees. He came and had some way of getting the queen and attracting the other bees and taking them off. I was told that if they hadn't acted in that fashion that we could have had a major catastrophe."

When the working mother had to be away from the home, she tried to make sure the children were well-occupied. She often employed outstanding students to take her sons to events after school, on weekends or during the summer. The students also taught her sons sports, helped with homework and became cherished companions.

Brian O'Connor, age 25, remembers how it was to grow up in the O'Connor household. The middle child, he says that no one really had time to dwell on the long hours his mother worked, mainly because she had them involved in so many activities. "You name it, we were signed up," he says, listing Spanish, golf, football and dancing lessons as just a few of the many activities she scheduled for them. HE says that often his mother got home earlier than the kids. "If my mother is not busy organizing something or giving directions, she's not happy," quips Brian.

He says there were occasions when he should have drawn the line--like the time he overheard his mother saying to someone on the phone, "Oh sure, Brian can escort your daughter at the debutante ball."

But overall, he gives his mom credit for always doing that little bit extra to make their childhood special. For instance, he tells how for several years the O'Connors decided to celebrate Halloween by converting their home into a haunted house. Mama O'Connor dressed up like a wicked witch wearing a black robe of another sort, while papa O'Connor, alias Igor, made sure each child was sufficiently scared out of his wits as the "trick or treaters" toured the haunt.

As the children grew older, Sandra O'Connor grew busier. After her five-year sabbatical and total indulgence in motherhood, she decided to join the work force again as an assistant attorney general in Arizona. Immediately given many new responsibilities, she familiarized herself with the Arizona state government. Not long after, there was an opening in O'Connor's Arizona state-senate district. She was appointed to the seat and ran successfully for two more terms. She also served as the majority leader of the senate, which added pressure to her work.

By 1975, ready for a change, Sandra Day O'Connor decided to run for the then elected position of superior-court judge in Maricopa County, northwest of Phoenix. She won the election and served there as a judge until 1979, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

The rest is history. In 1981, to replace the retiring Justice Potter Stewart, President Reagan chose 51-year-old Sandra Day O'Connor, "a person," he declared, "for all seasons." Luckily, the year before, the justices had decided to drop the "Mr." in front of "Justice," which until that time had been used in published opinions and official records for 190 years. Thus "Justice O'Connor" was a natural way to address her.

The Court's annual term begins, by statute, on the first Monday in October and ends around July 4. To begin each session, the crier brings down his gavel and intones the centuries-old "oyez" (pronounced "o-yay," and meaning "hear ye").

During each day the Supreme Court of the United States is in session, an invocation, "God bless this honorable Court," is pronounced upon its proceedings. As the justices gaze down from their august perch, they look upon the Ten Commandments graven upon the walls of their building.

Justice O'Connor joins her colleagues in hearing oral arguments between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays for approximately two weeks of each month. Visitors are invited, up to a limit of 218, on a first-come, first-served basis. Astonishment at the judicial ambience is not unknown. One man said he had expected the justices to "talk in Latin or something." A high-school girl was shocked that a black-robed justice could rock comfortably in his highback chair and actually laugh out loud. (Justices are privileged to choose a chair for their individual comfort.)

Laughter, however, is not indigenous to the high court. The stresses of the place understandably make for an air of aloofness. To reach the Supreme Court, cases must turn on principles of law or constitutional issues of far-reaching importance. From more than 5,000 petitions a year, the Court hears arguments on perhaps 150. "We are very quiet here," Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once remarked, "but it is the quiet of a storm center."

Sandra Day O'Connor, regarded by most as a judicial conservative except when it comes to sex discrimination, already knows that storm center well. She has always shown particular interest in equality for women. She states: "I worked hard to try to eliminate what I saw or judged as legal impediments in the way of letting women progress and meet their career goals. I think that after women got the right to vote, they pretty much sat down for a long period of time and packed their banners and stayed quiet. It wasn't until the '60s that women began to bring to the forefront the continuing concerns that they had about equal opportunity. I am sure that but for that effort, I would not be serving in this job, because people obtained a greater consciousness of the need for women in these positions.

"There were not as many women working, at least in the professions, in the days when I was starting out in the legal profession," says Justice O'Connor. "In fact, there were only a handful. We used to meet in Arizona, the women lawyers there, about once a month--and initially we could sit around a very small table indeed. Through the years it grew."

AS for role models, the justice says: "A woman jude in Arizona named Norma Lockwood became the first woman chief justice of the state supreme court. Her father had been a lawyer and a judge, and she became a legislator and a judge. She was very helpful to the women lawyers in those days and would meet with us. We thought that was a wonderful encouragement."

Does she foresee the day when as many as half the Supreme Court will be female justices? "I surely would think so," she sasy with conviction. "In our law schools today at least half the students are women. I fully expect to see the percentages of women in the practice reflected in the rouughly similar percentages on the bench and in other activities in which lawyers are generally engaged.

"So I certainly do think we are going to see that reflected--not only here but in judicial offices across the nation."

Have the confines of Washington and its turmoil made a severe change in the lifestyle of Justice O'Connor after a childhood spent in the wide-open spaces and an early career in ozonic Arizona? Her answer is not suprising: "When we lived in Arizona I was an active worker in a variety of civic projects and a volunteer in a good many different agencies. Today, I don't have the time to do much in terms of caring for my household or anything else except doing work that's demanded by this job. So it's a complete change."

Once an avid cook, Justice O'Connor must now leave most of the cooking to others. Her diet has changed too, "rather dramatically," she says. Once a staunch beef eater, the justice has turned to fish, fruits and vegetables. She says she tries to avoid sugars and salt but confesses a weakness for coffee. She also takes several vitamins each day.

As for indulging in her favorite recreation--tennis--the justice says she was very fond of her tennis-playing friends in Phoenix and misses them in Washington. She still manages to get in a game a week, at noon, in a facility near the Court.

And her beloved boys? "They are all very responsible young adults; all have performed well indeed," she says. "I see them already taking on jobs as volunteers in some of the things I was interested in long ago. And that's just wonderful to me. I think it's important that young people get involved, and I'm extremely proud that our sons are becoming a part of community activities."

Sandra O'Connor's busy work schedule may have served through the years to bring her family closer together. "We all like sports," she says. "Through the years we planned our vacations so we could take them skiing--winter skiing in Utah and California, water-skiing in summer. We also like to play tennis, as you know, and golf. The children learned to play both sports. We also managed to take backpacking trips and camping trips together.

"Years ago we had family gatherings for our friends in Phoenix where we would stage things like 'Family Olympics Day.' We'd set up a whole range of sports activities and encourage each family to construct their own flag, march in the grand parade and enter all the events as families."

The older the boys got, the more their father enjoyed being with them, she says, adding, "I think they are as close as a father and sons could possibly be. John has such a great sense of humor, and all three of our boys are very witty. They have a wonderful time entertaining one another."

John O'Connor's sense of humor, a tonic for Sandra as well, has been a great antidote to the somber issues she must contend with on the Supreme Court. "It just bubbles out of him on an impromptu basis," she says. "Sometimes the first statement of the day will be some funny little comment that will have us both laughing. He has kept me laughing for 30 years."
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Title Annotation:Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Author:Marie, Joan S.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 1, 1985
Previous Article:No nose for wine.
Next Article:Hobby horses.

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