Jul 4, 2005

"A huge mystery to most women of my generation" [LINK]

Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick in a New York Times op-ed, on the retiring Justice O'Connor:

IN the fall of 1992, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke to my first-year law school class at Stanford University, her alma mater. My class, which was almost 50 percent women — black, Hispanic, gay and disabled women among them — received her warmly. She is, after all, a feminist pioneer. The first woman on the United States Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor broke through glass ceilings the way women of my generation broke nails. She, more than any other woman in the legal profession, proved that we could be whatever we wanted.

Which is why her speech was so stunning: it was curt and unsentimental and — if recollection serves — it concluded with a lament about how annoying it is to receive late-night telephone calls from death row petitioners with only moments left before their executions. I left the hall furious, wondering how a woman could be so heartless.

She shocked me again in the fall of 2000, when I was covering oral arguments at the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. Justice O'Connor, 70 years old at the time, was listening to an argument about how to count the notorious "butterfly ballots" that had confused Florida voters, especially the elderly. Her characteristically tart reaction to the voters' difficulties — "For goodness' sakes, I mean it couldn't be easier" — crushed any liberal dreams that some heightened feminine compassion would decide this case for Al Gore.

Suffice it to say, Justice O'Connor is a huge mystery to most women of my generation. How could someone who blew open doors for generations of women after her show so little empathy to female victims of violence in the 2000 case of United States v. Morrison, for instance, where she joined with the court's conservatives to invalidate the Violence Against Women Act, or to teenagers facing the death penalty in Roper v. Simmons last fall? How could someone who so embodies minority advancement not use her new power to pull everyone else up with her?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg made more sense to my female colleagues....

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