Sandra Day O’Connor was responsible for collegiality on the U.S. Supreme Court more than any other justice, her former colleague and current justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Sept. 25.
Justices used to be openly hostile to one another. That changed when women came on the bench, Ginsburg said at a Ronald Reagan Institute event in Washington marking the anniversary of O’Connor’s 1981 swearing-in as the first woman on the Supreme Court.
There will always be tense moments, Ginsburg said. For instance, she said the court’s 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore that sent George W. Bush to the White House was the most tension she’s experienced on the court. The now-retired O’Connor sided with the majority in that 5-4 decision, while Ginsburg voted the other way.
But Ginsburg said O’Connor always responded to ideas, not individuals. “In that, I tried to follow her lead,” she said.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, known to write harsh dissents and also to mix it up with colleagues at oral arguments, said collegiality can be challenging at times.
Her problem, she said, is that she used to be a district court judge where she had her own “fiefdom.” Now she’s one of nine, and has to be mindful of that.
It can be hard but “I’m trying to bring it under control,” she said.
Sotomayor also recalled O’Connor’s kindness and how she felt when she heard President Ronald Reagan was going to nominate her to the Supreme Court.
Her “appointment gave me hope,” Sotomayor said.