We attended the ConSource benefit dinner Friday night. Also in attendance were former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor (the featured speaker), Senators Hatch and Bennett from Utah, Senator Smith from Oregon, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and Randy Quarles, Undersecretary of the Treasury. At our table sat members of the Eccles family–generous benefactors of the University of Utah and BYU whose name graces the U of U football stadium. We quickly disclosed that we attended BYU and after some good-natured razzing, enjoyed an evening of friendly conversation.
Senator Hatch introduced Justice O’Connor. Among the many anecdotes, we were interested to learn that before meeting and marrying John O’Connor, the future Justice O’Connor briefly dated a young William Rehnquist.
Justice O’Connor’s life serves as a wonderful example to aspiring jurists–male and female. Suggesting that her accomplishments–or those of any woman–are only an example to other women is a shibboleth, limiting the scope of their influence and impact of their achievements. We were struck by the sheer volume of Justice O’Connors accolades. What she has done would be impressive for any person–male or female. She isn’t just “good for a girl,” she is a powerhouse.
She gave a strong speech in favor of ConSource’s effort to “democratize” Constitutional documents by making them available to everyone. Though she just turned seventy-six, her age clearly has not slowed her mind or wit as she delivered one-liners with ease. She spoke at length about Justice Warren Berger. He gave up his post as Chief Justice to lead a commission commemorating the bicentennial of the Constitution. A strict constructionist (other than Roe v. Wade), he argued for the importance of Constitutional structures like separation of powers and checks and balances. His love of the Constitution inspired Justice O’Connor and she in turn argued forcefully for the importance of teaching the American founding in public schools. She suggested, and we agree, that ConSource presents an excellent opportunity to expand national knowledge of the Constitution.
Many criticize Justice O’Connor for her “case by case” approach to Supreme Court rulings. Justice Scalia has been particularly unforgiving in his assesment of her rulings which he characterizes as inconsistent and contradictory. The Wall Street Journal took to calling her a “walking amendment.” This is no doubt due, in part, to her “swing vote” status on the Court and her unpredictability in decision. Still others appreciate the individualized way in which she approaches each case. Every case is different, they reason, and therefore requires new interpretations of the law which do not necessarily follow precedent.
Following her address we met Justice O’Connor and thanked her for her rousing speech. She did not have time to field any questions–including ours. There are few times when someone meets or exceeds expectations. This was one of those rare moments. The same was also true of Elder Oaks, whom we had not before met.
Thanks and congratulations to Matt Berry who invited us to this event. Mr. Berry is one of the original Founders of ConSource and plays an important role in its continued success.