Roanoke College

Roanoke College Celebrates Constitution Day with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

  • Roanoke College Celebrates Constitution Day with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

  • 09/18/09
  • SALEM, Va. - Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was on the Roanoke College campus for Constitution Day, September 17 to speak about judicial independence. Following her prepared remarks, O'Connor answered questions about topics ranging from civility in government, cameras in the courts and the need to educate students on how the government works. She received a total of four standing ovations from the crowd of more than 2,000 in the Bast Center.

    "It is very disturbing to see so much incivility in Congress and state legislative branches," she said. "It is critically important to remain civil." She talked about her days in the Arizona legislature and how she invited her colleagues, from both parties, to her home for Mexican food and beer to help develop real friendships.

    O'Connor thinks the availability of air transportation keeps legislators out of Washington, D.C. except for Tuesday to Thursday during work weeks. "If I were the legislative czar, I would like to establish a policy that all the members had to be there from Monday to Saturday for three weeks of the month. Then they might get acquainted and make a few friends and perhaps be more civil. We need it."

    Regarding cameras in the Supreme Court, she said it would require the agreement of the Justices, and she's not sure if that will happen. "They don't want to be TV stars, or TV scoundrels, as the case may be." But she stressed the business of the court is very much public, with transcripts released online almost immediately.

    She was asked about President Ronald Reagan, who nominated her as the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. "He was a man who had enormous amount of personal charm and ability to be effective in front of the television camera and microphone," she said, "and he did have a pretty clear notion of the big picture items he wanted to deal with as president."

    O'Connor is involved in a civics education Web site,, and she encouraged the audience to check out the site and share it with students. The site includes video games, which allow players to simulate court experiences and even run law firms. The site also includes lesson plans, which make it easier for teachers to incorporate its messages into classroom curriculum.

    Today, she and Alan Day, her brother and co-author, met with faculty and staff and shared stories from Lazy B, the ranch where they grew up. O'Connor and Day co-wrote a book about their experiences on the ranch. They reminisced and talked about the tough life on the ranch, their parents and the cowboys who lived and worked on the ranch. O'Connor also talked about the pets she had as a child, including a baby bobcat, a coyote, a desert tortoise and finally, a smiling dog named Susie. O'Connor authored a children's book, Finding Susie, about her pets.

    O'Connor received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Roanoke College. She attended two classes and spoke to students. Dr. Todd Peppers hosted O'Connor in his Constitutional Law class, and she visited with Dr. Heath Brown's public policy students.

    "It was interesting to hear her views on both the court and her career after the court," Brown said. "She stressed the importance of writing as a key ingredient for success in the law and other careers. She encouraged students to develop their writing skills more than anything else."

    Courtney Mortland is a junior history major from Smithfield, Va. When O'Connor visited her constitutional law class, Mortland asked for advice on being a successful lawyer. "Justice O'Connor said we should read fast and write well," Mortland said. "She told stories about keeping up with the mountains of paperwork she had to read."

    Alan Day also spoke to two classes - a business investment class and a class on entrepreneurship.

    O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and served until her retirement in 2006.

    The annual Constitution Day lectures are sponsored by the President's Office and the Henry H. Fowler program. O'Connor exemplifies the caliber of speakers that have visited campus over the past quarter century under the auspices of the Fowler Lecture series.

    A list of past speakers includes former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and former Polish President Lech Walesa.

    Roanoke College, an independent, co-educational, four-year liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a classic, undergraduate setting. Roanoke prepares students for their futures through its commitment to providing a true classic college experience. Roanoke is one of just 276 colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review names Roanoke as one of the "best in the Southeast."

    For additional information, call the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282.

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