Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice shares wisdom with students

When retired United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor entered the U.S. District Courtroom Wednesday, it was clear it was not her first time approaching the bench.

With lively spirit, she joined the room of around 15 Bradley students, giving them an opportunity they never expected.

While O’Connor was scheduled to attend a reception at the U.S. Federal Courthouse on Wednesday, students and faculty were surprised that they would be able to spend time with the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said junior advertising major A’riel Wilson.

Bradley students and faculty were invited to meet with Bradley alumna and Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court James Shadid in the federal courtroom prior to the reception. Shortly after word that O’Connor had arrived early, she entered the courtroom.

Brad McMillan, the executive director of the Institute of Principled Leadership in Public Service, said he had no idea that O’Connor would be able to meet with students.

“It is absolutely fantastic that James Shadid thought to invite Bradley and to give [students] one-on-one time with the retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” he said. “She was very lively and feisty. It was a lot of fun to listen to her.”

O’Connor was nominated to become the Supreme Court Justice in 1981 by former President Ronald Reagan. She said when she accepted her nomination, it was a simple phone call from the White House. She retired from the court in 2006.

Director of the Pre-Law Center Nicole Meyer said it was a great opportunity for students.

“I’m excited about it, and I can’t imagine [being] in the shoes of a student looking to pursue law,” she said. “I was surprised she was able to come to the courtroom.”

O’Connor was eager to interact with students, many of which who are considering attending law school. She answered questions from students and faculty with a punch, giving honest insight to her experience and legacy.

“I don’t know [what was surprising about becoming a Supreme Court Justice],” she said. “Everything was surprising, I hadn’t been there before!”

During her time with the U.S. Supreme Court she said it was interesting to get to know each Supreme Court Justice and learn how the court worked.

“Well, I didn’t have any mentors,” O’Connor said during the reception. “I knew three of them though, one of them was one of my classmates from Stanford was William Rehnquist. I figured he’d tell me everything I needed to know, of course he had been there for a while, and he didn’t bother to tell me one thing.”

Not only did the former Supreme Court Justice share her experiences, but she offered advice to those following law as a profession.
“There are only two things that matter as a legal professional,” she said. “You have to read fast and write well … [and] think fast and use your head.”

Because she was visiting the area on Tuesday to receive an honorary doctor of law degree from Eureka College, O’Connor accepted an invitation to attend a reception at the U.S. District Courthouse the following morning.

More than 200 lawyers, community leaders and Bradley students and representatives filled a long narrow lobby to hear a few words from a woman who made history. Bradley’s Information Technology department also supported the event by providing audio and sound resources.

“[The event] renews my faith in Bradley,” said senior history education major Derek Cantu. “It’s been another opportunity to see the many connections and the experiences students can have at Bradley.”

During her 25 years with the Supreme Court, O’Connor, 83, said often times she was the deciding vote on issues such as abortion and affirmative action. She was nominated to become the first female Supreme Court Justice in 1981 by former President Ronald Reagan and retired from the court in 2006.

Today, O’Conner focuses her efforts to educating young adults about government. She has developed and promoted a free online course at www.icivs.org aiming to further civic education for middle school students.