Evan Thomas, Author of First: Sandra Day O’Connor

Published on18 MAR 2019

Historian Evan Thomas discusses the life and legacy of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, including her role as the Supreme Court’s “swing vote” for nearly a quarter of a century on some of the most significant and divisive issues of our time. 

On Justice O’Connor’s approach to decisions: “People like to think of the Supreme Court as the last word. She didn't really think of it that way. She thought of it more as a branch of the government that engaged with other branches of government working through difficult societal issues like abortion, like affirmation action, like religious freedom. Let the conversation go on and that was her approach. It was very pragmatic.”

On Justice O’Connor being the Supreme Court’s “swing vote”: “[Justice O’Connor] was political, small “p,” political. She learned how to get along with others and this [was] very significant because she was the decisive vote. She was the swing vote on the Court. And she often had to put together majorities… five to four, you win. Three hundred and thirty times in 24 years she [was] the fifth vote. That’s a lot of power.” 

Explore More Insights