Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

September 8, 2005

Supreme Court Justices are People, Too

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:04 am

USA Today reports:

Chief justice’s death hits O’Connor hard

USA TODAY – September 7, 2005

WASHINGTON — As Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s flag-draped casket was carried up the Supreme Court steps Tuesday morning, one of the most compelling images was the distraught, tear-streaked face of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Her public sadness was a reminder of all that Rehnquist and the nation’s first female justice had been through together. They met in law school at Stanford University in the late 1940s. The World War II veteran was nearly six years her senior, but they developed a bond that endured through the years. They dated briefly, but then married other college sweethearts. Their families became close as Rehnquist and O’Connor walked remarkably similar paths.

In the 1960s, they lived in Phoenix and practiced law. They were active in Republican politics and became acolytes of conservative Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater.

Rehnquist was an assistant U.S. attorney general on Oct. 21, 1971, when President Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court. O’Connor, then a state senator in Arizona, sprung into action on Rehnquist’s behalf. On the floor of the Arizona Senate the next day, she called her friend “one of the most brilliant legal minds in the country” and said that because he was only 47, he might one day be elevated to chief.

When Rehnquist was sworn in as an associate justice on Jan. 7, 1972, O’Connor was in the courtroom. She joined him on the bench in 1981, tapped by President Reagan in a historic appointment. Five years later, Reagan made Rehnquist chief justice when Warren Burger retired.

On June 27 of this year, their last day together in the courtroom, O’Connor helped Rehnquist down from the bench. Suffering from thyroid cancer, he looked frail.

As Rehnquist was expected to retire, it came as a surprise that week when O’Connor, 75, said she was stepping down to take care of her ailing husband, John. President Bush chose federal judge John Roberts to replace O’Connor, who said she would stay on the court until she was replaced. But after Rehnquist’s death Saturday, Bush made Roberts the nominee for chief. So now, with her friend gone, O’Connor remains.

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