Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was her feisty and funny self at two speaking engagements in San Francisco this week, yet no one seemed surprised that she resisted calls for a boycott of Arizona over the state’s harsh new immigration law — she’s been living there almost her entire life.
Speaking to a capacity crowd for the St. Ignatius College Preparatory’s annual business luncheon Monday before heading out to the school to talk to students and invited guests Tuesday, O’Connor noted that immigration policies are set by federal officials, but acknowledged that people in her home state may “have gone a little too far,” in reacting to border-crossing problems by allowing law enforcement officers to arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant.
“It [the law] doesn’t read that way, but it might work that way,” she told the luncheon crowd in response to a question. “We’ll probably be locked up in court for a long time.”
O’Connor agreed to speak to S.I. alumni and students in large part because her late husband John, graduated from The City’s renowned Jesuit high school in 1947, and she noted that he remained loyal to the school all his life. Loyalty would also be a good way to describe O’Connor herself — she left the Supreme Court to take care of John after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. (The two met while attending Stanford Law School.)
Her appearance was also symbolically timed to celebrate St. Ignatius’ 20th year as a co-educational school — girls were first admitted in 1989 — and O’Connor was the first woman named to the Supreme Court.
“It took our nation 191 years to put a woman on the [Supreme] Court and it only took St. Ignatius 134 years,” she said. “I have to say in both cases that it was a good move.”
O’Connor is currently working on a project to encourage more civics studies in U.S. schools, involving a series of age-appropriate programs and games that can be found at www.ourcourts.org. She also said that in her years on the bench, the most important thing was her ability to read and understand mountains of petitions, of which the Supreme Court now reviews nearly 11,000 each year.
“Do you teach speed-reading at St. Ignatius?” she said. “You should. I’m serious. If I couldn’t speed-read I’d still be down there. You get those students learning how to read fast and to write well and they can do anything.”