March 06, 2013

Justice O'Conner on Fresh Air: Meh

I listened to Terri Gross interviewing Justice Sandra Day O'Connor yesterday on Fresh Air. Justice O'Connor is making the rounds to support her book "Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court"

While Justice O'Connor's place in history as the first woman supreme court justice is secure, I found the interview to be mostly unsatisfying. Not sure if it's age or personality or what - but Terri was pulling teeth trying to get anything out of Justice O' Connor. There were some interesting bits about restrooms (it always seems to come down to the bathroom for all sorts of social movements), but there were so many opportunities to expound and expand upon historical cases, current issues, the dynamics of a court that has been quite polarized that Justice O'Connor just refused to entertain, could not or would not recount.

Why? She seemed as if she were still in "don't let anything slip out" mode required during the vetting and approval process for the court. Maybe she's got a "circle the wagons" attitude regarding the court. Or perhaps there is a political bias here, with the reliably liberal Ms. Gross (although she is an amazing, unbiased interviewer) pushing Justice O'Connor into a taciturn corner. 

I was particularly cranky when Terri, broaching the period on the court when Justice O'Connor was arguably the swing vote, was reproached - Justice O'Connor's take on the phrase "swing vote" was that she "swung back and forth" and she most adamantly did not do that. Terri tried (mostly in vain) to explain the concept and draw her out before moving on. Are the justices (or specifically, this justice) so out of touch that such a fundamental concept of the intersection of politics and law on the Supreme Court is lost to her?

Compare and contrast to Terri's 2010 interview with Justice Stephen Breyer - which I still recall, several years later, as engaging, informative, and forthright in terms of opinion and historical perspective.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I also found the interview frustrating for the same reasons. On one level I understand O'Connor's attitude -- if you want her views on the XXXX constitutional issue, you can read her judicial opinions, which provide a fuller explanation than anything she could say in an hour-long interview. At the same time it frustrated me that she wouldn't acknowledge that there is some value in discussing the law in ways that regular people understand.

I wasn't surprised about O'Connor's reaction to Terry's question about being the swing vote, mainly because I cringed a bit at the way the question was phrased. It would probably have raised less ire if Terry had characterized O'Connor as unpredictable or difficult to read or complicated rather than implying lawyers thought she was gettable or something like that. But obviously the main problem is O'Connor was determined to be uncooperative.

I thought the sign off pleasantries were telling -- O'Connor launched into a mini peroration about the value and importance of encouraging talented people to studying the law. I got the impression that this was a theme of her book that she wanted to talk about and that she was annoyed Terry hadn't brought it up.