Sandra Day O'Connor, Well Judged

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, very much the center of attention last night at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, very much the center of attention last night at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Ruth Bader Ginsburg started at the beginning.

"She could brand cattle. Drive a tractor," the Supreme Court justice said, describing the early years of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the nation's highest court.

"Fire a rifle," Ginsburg continued, "with accuracy." The 500 or so judges, lawyers and others in the marble hall of the National Museum of Women in the Arts started howling. The laughs echoed and rose, erupting louder and louder.

O'Connor, the evening's honoree, appeared to smile wryly, while mouthing an "Ooh!" and flicking her fingers, as though pretending to wipe sweat from her brow.

On the same day that Gov. Mike Rounds signed legislation banning most abortions in South Dakota -- a law designed both to capitalize on O'Connor's departure from the bench and to challenge Roe v. Wade -- O'Connor was feted last night with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Women Judges, an organization she joined when it was first formed and its members were few.

It's an award the organization had never presented in its 27-year history -- perhaps because NAWJ is an "association replete with high achievers, and we're not easily impressed," noted President Vanessa Ruiz.

"That's so true," murmured a woman in the crowd.

But O'Connor impressed them.

They crowded under the great chandeliers at the museum. They lined the stairs leading up to, and the balustrades around, the second-floor balcony, and as Ginsburg and Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. spoke about their former colleague, a justice "universally hailed as one of the most influential women in history," as NAWJ put it in the evening's program, the audience of mostly women leaned forward to listen.

Ginsburg talked about how, "more than once," lawyers arguing cases before the Supreme Court -- well-regarded lawyers, with distinguished backgrounds and impressive résumés -- would turn to Ginsburg and call her "Justice O'Connor."

And O'Connor would "briskly remind" the lawyer, Ginsburg said: "She's Justice Ginsburg. I'm Justice O'Connor."

In a natty plaid suit with velvet collar, a Paloma Picasso silver pin and a silver scrunchie around her pony tail, Ginsburg concluded somberly:


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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