Sandra Day O'Connor: "I Couldn't Get a Job in a Law Firm"

During the 1950s, as Betty Friedan wrote in The Feminine Mystique, "women who had once wanted careers were now making careers out of having babies." Sandra Day O'Connor was not one of these women. She spent the first few years of the decade at Stanford and the rest looking for work. At that time, no firm would hire a female lawyer. (In contrast, her classmate William Rehnquist immediately landed a position as a Supreme Court clerk.) 

The Ideas ReportSo O'Connor decided to become a judge. In those days, judges were elected, not appointed, in her home state of Arizona. So O'Connor did what any candidate would do: she campaigned, raised money, and hoped to attract as many voters as possible. She didn't win the election. But she did gain insight into the electoral process for judges, and today she is one of its most outspoken critics. 

Since leaving the Supreme Court five years ago, O'Connor has often been condemned for meddling in national affairs instead of maintaining a cool, Sphinx-like silence. A Wall-Street Journal op-ed last fall accused her of "wield[ing] her political clout to push citizens to abandon their own politics." Here, in conversation with George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, O'Connor blends professional experience with personal conviction to explain why she feels compelled to speak out against judicial elections. 

More video from the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival

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Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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