Do you know what James Wilson, John Campbell, Stanley Matthews, Levi Woodbury, James Wayne, David Davis, Byron White, and Felix Frankfurter all have in common? They were all at one time or another U.S. Supreme Court Justices. Most of us would be hard pressed to name the nine Justices* who serve on the Supreme Court now, much less any who have served throughout history. Yet the Supreme Court is the highest in our land and hears cases that challenge and/or require interpretation of our Constitution. Once a decision is made by the Supreme Court, it can only be changed by altering the Constitution or by another Supreme Court decision.
Members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President, subject to the approval of the Senate. Believe it or not, there are no requirements for a Supreme Court Justice except, perhaps, U.S. citizenship. However, a background in law can be very helpful. Justices serve during “good Behavior,” which generally has come to mean “for life” unless they retire, resign, or are impeached. Talk about your job security! The number of Justices serving on the Supreme Court has changed 6 times since its institution in 1790 but in 1869 it settled at 9 Justices, where it has remained. One of the 9 serves as Chief Justice or presiding officer of the court.
The Supreme Court has been in the news a lot lately since Sandra Day O’Connor announced she will be retiring as soon as President Bush can find a successor for her. Everyone felt there would be an opening on the Supreme Court bench soon but from Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, age 80 and suffering from thyroid cancer, not O’Connor. Rehnquist has made no public announcement about his plans. Since Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life, Rehnquist has no obligation to step down.
The 75 year old O’Connor wants to spend more time with her family. Her husband of more than 50 years, John J. O'Connor, has been suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's.
O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. She has been considered the “swing vote” on many high profile cases regarding abortion, religion, death penalty, and affirmative action. O’Connor dismisses the “swing vote” description as just a media label.
One label O’Connor doesn’t dismiss is being a cowgirl. Born in Texas, she was raised on the Lazy-B Cattle Ranch which her parents owned and operated in Arizona. This was not a cushy, luxurious existence. The ranch didn’t even have electricity or running water until she was 7 years old. She earned her “cowgirl” notches by joining in the ranch activities. She learned to drive at age seven and could fire rifles and ride horses proficiently by the time she turned eight. Therefore she considered it an honor to be inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2002.
O’Connor seemed to be a balancing factor on the Supreme Court. She approached each case individually, not with some preconceived agenda. She basically just called them how she saw them, so to speak. Sometimes that fell on the left, sometimes on the right, sometimes in-between. This unpredictability will make her hard to replace. Couldn’t that be said about many women? They always keep you guessing.
Balance is something needed in the highest court in our land. Let’s pray her replacement has it, along with wisdom and judicial prudence, so we can continue to have liberty and justice for all.
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