US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor struck down rumors that she would step down from the high court in a rare television interview Sunday. O’Connor, appearing on ABC News “This Week” along with Justice Stephen Breyer, responded to a question from host George Stephanopoulos about whether her silence amid retirement speculation meant that she would be on the court for the next term with: “Oh, I assume so,” as reported by the Associated Press.
O’Connor, the first female justice to serve on the high court, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on this day in 1981. Known for her consistently middle of the road stance on many contentious issues, O’Connor has decided with the majority on a number of narrowly divided historic rulings. In the term that just ended, the Supreme Court issued 14 decisions with a 5-4 vote – O’Connor voted in the majority in all but two of them. “If we didn’t have a tradition of naming courts after the chief justice, this would be the O’Connor court,” Washington lawyer Ronald Klain told the Christian Science Monitor.
During her 22 years on the court, O’Connor has been neither consistently liberal nor conservative. Her middle road stance makes her the most popular justice on the court, according to a recent Fox News poll. “It isn’t just that O’Connor often emerges as the tiebreaker in an otherwise even split between conservatives and liberals. She often uses her deciding vote to achieve what in her view is a measure of justice,” the Monitor wrote. “To do it requires a close examination, not only of the law, but often of the particular facts of a case. This ad hoc approach, unmoored from an overriding judicial philosophy, can sometimes make hers a difficult vote to predict.”
In 1999, O’Connor voted with the majority in Stenberg v. Carhart, overturning a ban on so-called “partial birth abortions” that was so loosely written that it would have in effect outlawed all abortions. She also authored the majority opinion in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. While O’Connor also voted with the majority in this year’s important privacy case, Lawrence v. Texas which gave a long sought victory to gay rights activists, she authored her decision in a way that separated it from the privacy rights inherent in abortion rights. O’Connor also authored the majority opinion on affirmative action handed down by the court this term.