Our Views: O’Connor’s rural Arizona wisdom will be missed

October 27, 2018 GMT

Sandra Day O’Connor is an Arizona original whose legacy extends beyond serving as the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Her announcement earlier this week that she is leaving public life after a diagnosis of dementia creates a void that our state and nation need to be filled.

O’Connor, as a high court justice, was an enigma to those who seek labels. If anything, she was a moderate conservative and judicial minimalist who deftly and without political intention insightfully interpreted the law in ways that both pleased and irritated liberals and conservatives alike.

Nominated by conservative icon President Ronald Reagan, she was saddled with the label of swing vote through her high court tenure. She disliked the term but was pivotal in many cases, including the dramatic conclusion to the Bush-Gore presidential election.

As first female on the high court, many of her early years’ opinions for the court were overshadowed by her position as role model for women.

She said her life was greatly informed by her upbringing on a sprawling eastern Arizona ranch. She rode horses in a majestic but harsh land where making do without waste was the order of each day, the foundation of a successful ranch owned by multiple generations of her family.

Ranch life means constantly fixing things, sometimes with large repair and sometimes with simple maintenance, and that may well be the metaphor and legacy of her Supreme Court term.

After retirement from the court more than a decade ago, she founded an organization, iCivics, committed to increased civics education and civic engagement.

The aim, as she put it in an open letter last week, is to reinforce the approaches that have worked well in this country over time: Collaboration between governments and citizens to solve problems, putting the country’s interests above those of party and self and holding governments accountable.

It’s not enough, she said, to simply understand these foundational concepts. They have to be applied and used to actually solve problems.

That’s a lesson learned back in her ranch days, where identifying a broken gate, for example, wasn’t anywhere as useful as fixing it.

— Today’s News-Herald