As she withdraws from a long and distinguished public life, Sandra Day O’Connor offers Americans an important parting gift. We should listen to her call for people — “young and old” — to work together to solve our mutual problems and live up to the ideals of our country’s Constitution.
At 88, O’Connor has witnessed — and often been an important force in — much change in America. Her farewell letter to “friends and fellow Americans” did not cast stones or name names, because doing so would have contradicted the very thing she was advocating. But anyone who’s paying attention knows that the spirit of working together and, again in her words, “putting country and the common good above party and self-interest” is sorely lacking today, in the highest offices in Washington and across the country.
The chilling wave of pipe bombs in stamped envelopes mailed to prominent Democrats this week demonstrates just how deep and dangerous these divisions can become.
O’Connor’s career and her life are good examples of how America is supposed to work. She was a relatively obscure judge in Arizona when Ronald Reagan, a Republican president fulfilling a campaign promise, nominated her to be the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. Reagan probably thought she would be a safe choice, but she was no predictable party-line vote. She was exactly what a Supreme Court justice should be: a person who listened, questioned and discussed cases politely and then voted her informed beliefs on the merits of each. She was a thoughtful moderate, conservative on many issues and often the crucial swing vote, especially on thorny social questions.
After more than 24 years on the high court, she retired in 2005 because her husband was struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. But even in retirement she has made her mark. She wanted young people to understand the U.S. Constitution and our “unique” system of government, and she wanted them to become adults who would participate productively, and civilly, in their government. She founded iCivics, a nonprofit organization that provides free online games and lesson plans to help middle and high school students learn what our country is really about and encourage them to become active citizens. Her farewell letter said that iCivics now reaches half the young people in the country, and it expressed her hope that, as her own battle with dementia is leading her to withdraw from public life, others will take up this cause.
At a time when many people in government and the public seem to think that compromise means weakness and all that matters is the tally of individual “winners” and “losers,” O’Connor’s farewell message is one we need to heed now more than ever.
— The Greensboro News & Record