Having barely finished writing a review of First: Sandra Day O’Connor An Intimate Portrait of the First Woman Supreme Court Justice by Evan Thomas, the advancement of women’s rights was on my mind.
O’Connor, raised on a remote cattle ranch in the Arizona desert, finished her undergraduate studies and earned her law degree at Stanford University in six years, graduated third in her class and was only 22 years old! A newly-minted lawyer with that record could expect to find a good job at a prestigious law firm, right? Wrong. It was 1952, and no established law firm would hire a woman lawyer.
Determined to work in the profession she had prepared for, O’Connor opened her own firm with another woman, setting up shop in a mall. Later, she found work in the government, and later still, using her shrewd political skills and aided by powerful contacts, she was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the state senate. Within three years, she became the first woman ever to be majority leader in a state senate. It didn’t take long before she ascended to the U.S. Supreme Court as the first woman justice.
At the Court, O’Connor voted mostly with the conservatives during her first decade, satisfied with incrementally advancing the cause of women. With the passage of time, however, she began tacking to the left. Though a conservative, she evolved to occupy the space between conservatives and liberals, becoming the swing vote that determined the outcome in 330 cases, often championing the rights of women, children, gays and minorities.
O’Connor’s frustration at still not being able to land the job she wanted as a lawyer even 12 years after her graduation in 1964 came to mind when I saw this tweet by @sarahoconnor, a reporter for the Financial Times:
In 2019. Still blind. Or worse.