“The practice of democracy is not passed down through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned by each new generation.” – Sandra Day O’Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor was honored yesterday during a funeral at the Washington National Cathedral for her life of public service. I too want to pay tribute to her remarkable life and what a fundamental part travel played in it.
In Memory Of Sandra Day O’Connor
Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to Washington, DC this week to attend the funeral of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. It has been a difficult time at home and I regret I was unable to pay respects in-person, as I did for Justice Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But that won’t stop me from honoring her here for her remarkable life.
First, I loved her commitment to public service and to teaching the next generation democracy. After retiring from the Court, she started a non-profit called iCivics that aimed to teach civics to grade-school aged children. I see such instruction as critical to maintaining the health of our representative republic. As her son shared at the funeral yesterday, “Today iCivics is used by half of all middle school and high school kids in this country, and over half the schools. To business types, let me put her iCivics accomplishment in another way. At the age of 78, our mom founded and led a hot tech based nonprofit startup. Within 10 years, she had achieved over 85 percent market share and 50 percent market penetration. Not too shabby.”
Not too shabby indeed…
Second, she was a traveler. Though she lived in Washington, DC for much of the year, her heart and home was always the Lazy B cattle ranch in Arizona. Every chance she got she returned “home” to spend in the great outdoors. I’m quite certain she loved when Congress made an exception to the perimeter rule to allow nonstop service from Washington National (DCA) to Phoenix (PHX) on US Airways in 2000. There’s no place like home.
A Key Member Of Court
O’Connor ideology was complicated and along with Justice Anthony Kennedy she often served as decisive swing vote. Like every Justice, there were some of her decisions that I agreed with and other I did not. Perhaps most of all, though, I appreciated her plurality opinion for the Court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004).
Yaser Hamdi was American citizen detained as an enemy combatant in Afghanistan in 2001 and accused of being providing aid and support to the Taliban. While O’Connor wrote the detention of combatants was lawful in narrow circumstances, Hamdi’s Fifth Amendment due process rights had been violated. The Constitution, she wrote, “Demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.”
I think that is fundamental to our constitutional system and an essential safeguard to the liberty of every citizen.
When it comes to public servants, I laud all those who give of their talent and time to make the US better, regardless of ideological affiliation. That is why I honored Scalia and Ginsburg and why I also honor O’Connor.
Let her life be a lesson to us that our vocation is never complete as long as we have breath. Not only was she a trailblazer at Stanford Law School and as the first female Justice of the US Supreme Court, but she was also a district attorney, Arizona State Senator, and entrepreneur. She retired in her prime to serve her husband (who had developed Alzheimer’s) and still found the time to build iCivics and continue to serve the public in so many other ways. What a life well-lived.
image: Washington National Cathedral (screen grab)