CHARGE (What is the author trying to say?): To write a biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman justice of the US Supreme Court that strikes a balance between her personal relationships and her judicial philosophy.
FACTS: This is an excellent biography of Sandra Day O’Connor, based upon exclusive interviews and first-time access to her archives. She grew up on a ranch in Arizona, as her father’s pet, and graduated from Stanford and Stanford Law School as an excellent student. She was surprised to learn that no law firm would hire her, only being offered a position as a secretary. During law school I was surprised to learn she dated William Rehnquist, and he even proposed to her, but she ultimately married another law student, John O’Connor.
Through stints in private practice, the Arizona State Legislature, and the Superior Court bench, O’Connor raised three sons, was a member of the Junior League, and managed a household. Through snippets of actual conversations, news articles, and correspondence, the author tells a highly readable and credible story of the coming of age of female attorneys in the US.
When Ken Starr and Jon Rose came to interview O’Connor as a candidate for the US Supreme Court, she wowed them with her judicial knowledge, personality, and also her salmon mousse. Her nomination by President Reagan on July 6, 1981, gave women a glimpse into a future that had once been inaccessible to them. The book chronicles many of the cases which came before O’Connor on the court, including abortion rights and probably her most difficult – Bush v. Gore.
The author achingly describes her husband John’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, which ultimately led to her retirement from the court. Her brief time with John before his illness overtook him and her own Alzheimer’s diagnosis, work to end the book on a low note. Perhaps a more detailed recollection of her achievements would have brought the book to a less abrupt and more satisfying conclusion.
VERDICT (Was the author successful?): Guilty, as charged. This is a definitive biography of O’Connor and a must-read for anyone interested in the evolution of the US Supreme Court.