Saturday, July 02, 2005

O'Connor and feminism

A journalist emailed me yesterday to ask if I knew a good source to talk to on the subject of what Sandra Day O'Connor's elevation to the Supreme Court had meant to women in the law. After I got tired of scraching my head, I came up with Mary Cheh. Professor Cheh has been a role model and a counsellor to many a female law student at GWU, including me, since 1979. I'd be interested to hear her thoughts.

I was in law school when O'Connor was appointed in 1981, but I don't remember thrilling to it. She was a conservative Reagan appointee. Whatever effect she had on the status of women in the law, I would have to say it was uneven. Forty percent of my law school class was female. Yet when I clerked in Dallas in the summer of 1983, I got a message in no uncertain terms: the courthouse would not be a welcoming place. Women don't do well in the courtroom down here, one lawyer told me ("except in domestic relations cases"). It's just the way it is. So I high-tailed it back to Washington and never looked back.

Slate editor Dalia Lithwick, a decade my junior, writes, "Justice O'Connor is a huge mystery to most women of my generation."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg made more sense to my female colleagues. She used her law degree to advance women's rights before she came to the court and continues to do so today. Justice O'Connor always seemed like a fullback in a lacy jabot - testy and aggressive and with the expectation that feminism means stop whining and do for yourself.

Even so, I suspect we'll fondly remember the great feminist judge from Arizona once her replacement is found.

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