The retired Supreme Court justice is all business as she walks into our meeting room. But inside, she’s got the heart of an educator.
Of course, Sandra Day O’Connor will always be associated with her historic “first,” as the first woman justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that appointment by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she also served as a judge and a state senator.
Since her retirement from the high court in 2006, she has found a new passion – civics education.
How did she decide to become a champion of that cause? O’Connor says that in her last year on the bench, she was “very much aware of the major issues and debates” being brought before the high court. There were lots of complaints about the decisions, she says, and many were directed at the judicial branch – with some blaming the justices for certain outcomes.
“As you analyzed it, it appeared to show in many cases that the concerns were misdirected: There was a tendency to blame the courts for things that were really not a judicial matter,” she told CNN.
The solution to that misunderstanding, she believes, is civics education – a subject she notes has changed through the years. She remembers her own schooling in El Paso, Texas, and how she learned about Texas government. Civics knowledge was helpful to her later in life, O’Connor says, and she’s disappointed that today, many schools have stopped teaching the subject.