O’Connor sparks controversy at Supreme Court Preview

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October 6, 2009

2:44 AM

The College of William and Mary’s Institute of Bill of Rights Law hosted its 22nd annual Supreme Court Preview Friday and Saturday. In addition to the attendance of former Supreme Court Associate Justice and William and Mary Chancellor Sandra Day O’Connor, the two-day event was broadcast live on C-Span.

“We’ve had delightful conversations, and I think she’s settling in well,” O’Connor said during the mock case’s final session, referring to recent Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. “But two women is not enough. We need more.”

O’Connor, the first female to serve on the Supreme Court, was nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and served until 2006, when she stepped down to care for her husband, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Former President George W. Bush nominated current Associate Justice Samuel Alito to replace her.

On the last day of the preview, O’Connor expressed her feelings to the panel on some of her decisions being undone by the current court.

“What would you feel?” O’Connor said. “I’d be a little bit disappointed. If you think you’ve been helpful, and then it’s dismantled, you think, ‘Oh, dear.’ But life goes on. It’s not always positive.”

O’Connor was not the only person to speak. A panel met Friday to discuss Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing this past summer and the future of the Supreme Court. The tone of the discussion was very candid.

“This panel, when it is concluded, you will know, is the definition of an unscripted enterprise,” SCOTUSblog Supreme Court Correspondent Lyle Denniston said. “We have not planned anything for you at all, other than to name for you the people who are participating and their affiliations.”

Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor of online magazine Slate.com, expressed her opinion that Democrats were confused with what kind of candidate they wanted to nominate.

“Democrats want John Roberts in pumps,” she said.

University of Chicago law professor David Strauss had a different perspective.

“I think a fact about this administration and this period in our history is that moving the Supreme Court is not a priority for the Democrats, and it’s not a priority for President Obama,” he said, proceeding to express his view from the Democratic Party’s perspective. “Why do we need to expend political capital confirming someone to the Supreme Court who has views that are pushing the edge or will come across as a person trying to do something big on the court? We don’t get anything for that.”

University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt downplayed the need for anything groundbreaking to come from a confirmation hearing.

“The ultimate aim of a confirmation hearing is not to be dramatic … and that is what we saw,” he said.

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