Sandra Day O’Connor

Opening Statement for U.S. Supreme Court Nomination Hearing - Sept. 9, 1981

Sandra Day O’Connor
September 09, 1981
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Mr. Chairman and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I would like to begin my brief opening remarks by expressing my gratitude to the President for nominating me to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and my appreciation and thanks to you and to all the members of this committee for your courtesy and for the privilege of meeting with you.

As the first woman to be nominated as a Supreme Court Justice, I am particularly honored, and I happily share the honor with millions of American women of yesterday and of today whose abilities and whose conduct have given me this opportunity for service. As a citizen and as a lawyer and as a judge, I have from afar always regarded the Court with the reverence and with the respect to which it is so clearly entitled because of the function it serves. It is the institution which is charged with the final responsibility of insuring that basic constitutional doctrines will always be honored and enforced. It is the body to which all Americans look for the ultimate protection of their rights. It is to the U.S. Supreme Court that we all turn when we seek that which we want most from our Government: equal justice under the law.

If confirmed by the Senate, I will apply all my abilities to insure that our Government is preserved; that justice under our Constitution and the laws of this land will always be the foundation of that Government.

I want to make only one substantive statement to you at this time. My experience as a State court judge and as a State legislator has given me a greater appreciation of the important role the States play in our federal system, and also a greater appreciation of the separate and distinct roles of the three branches of government at both the State and the Federal levels. Those experiences have strengthened my view that the proper role of the judiciary is one of interpreting and applying the law, not making it.

If confirmed, I face an awesome responsibility ahead. So, too, does this committee face a heavy responsibility with respect to my nomination. I hope to be as helpful to you as possible in responding to your questions on my background and my beliefs and my views. There is, however, a limitation on my responses which I am compelled to recognize. I do not believe that as a nominee I can tell you how I might vote on a particular issue which may come before the Court, or endorse or criticize specific Supreme Court decisions presenting issues which may well come before the Court again. To do so would mean that I have prejudged the matter or have morally committed myself to a certain position. Such a statement by me as to how I might resolve a particular issue or what I might do in a future Court action might make it necessary for me to disqualify myself on the matter. This would result in my inability to do my sworn duty; namely, to decide cases that come before the Court. Finally, neither you nor I know today the precise way in which any issue will present itself in the future, or what the facts or arguments may be at that time, or how the statute being interpreted may read. Until those crucial factors become known, I suggest that none of us really know how we would resolve any particular issue. At the very least, we would reserve judgment at that time.

On a personal note, if the chairman will permit it, I would now like to say something to you about my family and introduce them to you.

THE CHAIRMAN. I would be very pleased to have you introduce the members of your family at this time, Judge O'Connor.

JUDGE O'CONNOR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

By way of preamble, I would note that some of the media have reported correctly that I have performed some marriage ceremonies in my capacity as a judge. I would like to read to you an extract from a part of the form of marriage ceremony which I prepared:

Marriage is far more than an exchange of vows. It is the foundation of the family, mankind's basic unit of society, the hope of the world and the strength of our country. It is the relationship between ourselves and the generations which follow.

This statement, Mr. Chairman, represents not only advice I give to the couples who have stood before me but my view of all families and the importance of families in our lives and in our country. My nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court has brought my own very close family even closer together, and I would like to introduce them to you, if I may.

My oldest son, Scott, if you would stand, please.

THE CHAIRMAN. Stand as your names are called.

JUDGE O'CONNOR. Scott graduated from Stanford two years ago. He was our State swimming champion. He is now a young businessman, a pilot, and a budding gourmet cook.

Now my second son, Brian, is a senior at Colorado College. He is our adventurer. He is a skydiver with over 400 jumps, including a dive off El Capitan at Yosemite last summer. I look forward to his retirement from that activity [laughter] so he can spend more time in his other status as a pilot.

Now my youngest son, Jay, is a sophomore at Stanford. He is our writer, and he acted as my assistant press secretary after the news of the nomination surfaced and did a very good job keeping all of us quiet. If I could promise you that I could decide cases as well as Jay can ski or swing a golf club, I think that we would have no further problem in the hearing.

Finally, I would like to introduce my dear husband, John. We met on a law review assignment at Stanford University Law School and will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary in December. John has been totally and unreservedly and enthusiastically supportive of this whole nomination and this endeavor, and for that I am very grateful. Without it, it would not have been possible.

I would like to introduce my sister, Ann Alexander, and her husband, Scott Alexander. They live in Tucson, and are the representatives of my close family at this hearing.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I would like to thank you for allowing me this time and this opportunity. I would now be happy to respond to your questions.

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committe on the Judiciary. The Nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor of Arizona to Serve as an Associate Justic of the Supreme Court of the United States: Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 97th Cong., 1st sess.; 1991, 57-59.