More sad news: Sandra Day O’Connor diagnosed with dementia

Announcements like this (click on screenshot to read article) make me really sad, especially when the person who writes them, as O’Connor did, knows what they’re in store for. Sometimes I wish I were an animal who didn’t know about dementia or mortality. How freeing that would be.

O’Connor served on the Supreme Court from 1981-2006, and although she voted for Bush in Bush v. Gore, she also voted on the side of many progressive issues. One thing is for sure: she’d be a hell of a better Republican justice than Brett Kavanaugh.


  1. mikeyc
    Posted October 23, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I fear this more than I do death. Would not be such a loss in my case, but it is extra tragic for such a brilliant mind (though I will never forgive her for Bush v Gore).

  2. Historian
    Posted October 23, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Even the ACLU liked her! Here it lists the cases in which she was the decisive vote for progressive causes. I suppose she could be classified as a moderate Republican, a person now hard to find, at least in the halls of government.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 23, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      O’Connor made her bones in the Arizona state legislature (and, later, on an Arizona appellate court) as something of a protégé of Barry Goldwater (as did John McCain). Goldwater was considered a right-wing extremist when he ran for the presidency against LBJ in ’64, but he’d be run out of today’s Republican Party by the wingnuts as a RINO.

      Our nation sure could use some more Goldwaters and McCains and O’Connors in the perilous days ahead.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 23, 2018 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    … she also voted on the side of many progressive issues.

    SDO was part of the triumvirate (along with justices Kennedy and Souter) who wrote the plurality opinion upholding the essential framework regarding reproductive rights in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. But aside from that and a few other doctrinal areas (affirmative action comes to mind) she was pretty much a standard-brand conservative — an Arizona Republican politician with libertarian leanings in the mold of Barry Goldwater or John McCain. Sure, she was to the left of her coevals like Rehnquist and Scalia and Thomas, but that’s like describing her as somewhere south of the North Pole.

    She seemed like a nice enough person, and I wish her and her family as little suffering as possible.

    • Historian
      Posted October 23, 2018 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Sure, she wasn’t John Paul Stevens, but if she were nominated today (in her 1981 body), she would probably be confirmed unanimously

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 23, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        Except she wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in the Arizona sun of ever having her name make it onto the Federalist Society’s list from which Republican nominees are now chosen.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted October 23, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          I think that list will be one of the more-or-less permanent political changes wrought by the Trump presidency. I doubt any future Republican presidential aspirant will be able to garner the nomination without first pledging to name justices off the Federalist Society list (or something very much like it). The evangelicals and other GOP kulturkamp warrior won’t stand for it.

    • mikeyc
      Posted October 23, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Ken – an off topic request. I am always interested in reading how legal scholars are described, e.g.; you talk about O’Conner’s legal decisions as “standard-brand conservative” with “libertarian leanings in the mold of Barry Goldwater or John McCain”. The depth of understanding this implies is what interests me (and which I lack). I’d love to understand this sort of thing better but I don’t have the time or the inclination to study law, read court cases and whatnot…so my question to you.

      Do you have recommendations for popular books that examine the legal histories of a Supreme – or any lawyer or judge, for that matter. I’m betting you do. Just curiosity.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 23, 2018 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right co-authored by Linda Greenhouse, who covers the SCOTUS beat for the NYT, might be of interest to you, Mikey. Greenhouse also authored an earlier book on a related topic Becoming Justice Blackmun. And Joan Biskupic, the former WaPo SCOTUS reporter, did a well-regarded book on Antonin Scalia, American Original.

        • mikeyc
          Posted October 23, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          Thnx. I’ll look for them.

  4. CAS
    Posted October 23, 2018 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    She was an independent justice,who showed concern for other people, unlike the cookie cutter, far right conservatives we are stuck with presently.

  5. Joe Bussen
    Posted October 23, 2018 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Ken–what about Richard Posner’s books? I’m sure you are familiar with them.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 23, 2018 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      Judge Posner’s a book-writing machine, man. He’s written something like 40 full-length books, on top of 35 years’ worth of legal opinions for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and even more decades’ worth of articles in legal journals. And on top of all that, for many years he co-wrote a highly regarded blog with U of C economics Nobel laureate Gary Becker.

      Posner’s an interesting case. He started his legal career as a law clerk for the great liberal icon William Brennan. Then, in the Seventies, he became known as an arch-conservative. After his appointment to the federal appellate bench by Ronald Reagan, he looked for a while to be a leading candidate for an appointment to SCOTUS, but he carved out so many controversial legal positions in his public writing that he essentially became untouchable for the type of conservatives who counsel Republican presidents on judicial appointments. Posner’s never been one to hide his candle under a bushel.

      Posner is most closely associated with the “Law and Economics” school of libertarianism. But in his later years, especially after the great recession of 2008, he moderated his doctrinaire economic views quite a bit, and there have always been social issues where he trended left. He’s written on a tremendous number of topics — seemingly anything in American life that’s caught his fancy.

      There are a lot subjects I disagree with Posner about, but I admire him greatly.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 23, 2018 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        PS – Posner and our host have done some bonding over their common interest in felines, IIRC.

  6. Todd
    Posted October 24, 2018 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    There’s speculation she voted for Bush v Gore because she wanted to retire to take care of her ailing husband … and wanted to do so under a republican administration.

    Horrifying if true, but we’ll likely never know.

  7. Posted October 24, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Dementia is so sad – my father’s preAlzheimer’s now and it is like part of him is going by inches …

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