O'Connor on the Court

You gotta like Sandra Day O'Connor. She's spirited, direct, no-nonsense and, three years after stepping down from the Supreme Court, gives the jaunty impression she is telling you things she ought not be saying. So it was in our conversation earlier this month at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where O'Connor was among 16 public officials, politicians, writers, and business leaders to sit with TheAtlantic.com for video interviews.

One thing she's often asked about is the place of gender on the Court. For 12 years, O'Connor, appointed in 1981 as the first woman on the Supreme Court, was the sole woman. She welcomed Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993 with "enormous pleasure," thrilled to no longer be "the only." And when O'Connor stepped down from the bench in 2006, she said that she hoped George W. Bush would name a woman to replace her. Bush chose John Roberts (who weeks later was nominated instead to fill the seat of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who had just died, and O'Connor was succeeded instead by Samuel Alito), and it was Ginsburg's turn to be "the only."
But not for long. If Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed by the Senate, there will once again be two women on the Court. O'Connor, for her part, seems less elated than relieved. In Aspen, she said "it made a huge difference to me" when Ginsburg was confirmed, bringing important symbolism as well as the substantive value of a second female perspective. "It was so much better an atmosphere to have two," O'Connor said. "I wouldn't have minded three or four, but that didn't happen." (Ginsburg, for her part, told the New York Times Magazine last week that on a majority-female court, "The work would not be any easier. Some of the amenities might improve.")
Sotomayor was preparing for her hearings at the time I spoke with O'Connor, who remembered her own confirmation process as "absolutely miserable." The senators peppered her with questions. "They didn't yield any time, as I recall." Her advice for Sotomayor: "Take a big breath and realize it will all be over in a few days."

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Bob Cohn is the president and chief operating officer of The Atlantic. He was previously the editor of Atlantic Digital, the executive editor of Wired and The Industry Standard, and a writer at Newsweek. More

As The Atlantic's president and chief operating officer, Cohn oversees business and revenue operations for the company’s print, digital, and live-events divisions. He came to the job in March 2014 after five years as the editor of Atlantic Digital, where he built and managed teams at TheAtlantic.comThe Wire, and The Atlantic Cities.

Before coming to The Atlantic, Cohn worked for eight years as the executive editor of Wired, where he helped the magazine find a mainstream following and earn a national reputation. During the dot-com boom, he was the executive editor of The Industry Standard, a newsweekly covering the Internet economy. In the late 1990s, he served as editor and publisher of Stanford magazine. He began his journalism career at Newsweek, where for 10 years he was a correspondent in the Washington bureau, at various times covering the Supreme Court, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Clinton White House.

In 2013, TheAtlantic.com won the National Magazine Award for best website. During Cohn’s tenure at Wired, the magazine was nominated for 11 National Magazine Awards and won six, including honors for general excellence in 2005, 2007, and 2009. As a writer, Cohn won a Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association for coverage of the Clarence Thomas confirmation process.

A graduate of Stanford, Cohn has a masters in legal studies from Yale Law School. He lives outside Washington, D.C., with his wife and two daughters.

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