On July 7, 1981 President Ronald Reagan kept a campaign promise that would change the highest court in the land forever. He nominated, for the first time in the history of the United States, a female justice to the Supreme Court. Her name was Sandra Day O’Connor, and on March 26, 2020, she celebrates her 90th birthday. While I have always known about O’Connor and admired her simply for her existence, I truly gained a new level of respect for her by reading a new biography on her, First by Evan Thomas.
From her days as a darling daughter on the Lazy B to her time after leaving the Supreme Court, this thick, comprehensive book (it is around 500 pages) covers Sandra’s life from beginning to now–and we’re so lucky it’s not the end of her life yet. But wow, as she lived a full life! From tiny ranch girl to law student to state legislator to the Supreme Court, and she bumped elbows with such fascinating people along the way. This book, and its heft, is not only a testament to her brilliance in so many ways, but of the impact she played in small and large ways.
This biography truly covers her entire biography–from dating in law school to squabbles at the Supreme Court. It’s the perfect read for young women in politics. O’Connor is an embodiment of doing it all–but not necessarily at the same time, or perfectly at all times. I loved reading about how she would leave important meetings, or legislature conferences,or court events, and make dinner or cookies for event, or simply to pour her colleague a cup of tea. It was very humbling to see such a heart on a women with so much power and who isn’t often regarded in pop culture as being “grandmotherly” despite being a grandmother.
Speaking of being a grandmother, I loved reading about what was happening in O’Connors life as these major Court decisions were made–deciding an abortion case as she was expecting a grandchild, talking 2000 election politics at an event post Bush v Gore, that sort of thing. This book is so well researched and supported by people who knew O’Connor and her circle well, and it gives such a well-rounded picture to the world she lived in while she was on the court.
If you’re a young woman in politics, you know how important Sandra Day O’Connor was–regardless of where you fall on the spectrum–but on her 90th birthday, I encourage you to learn more about her other than just the fact that she was “first.” This book is a great start.