It has been about seven years since Sandra Day O’Connor stepped down from the high court. I confess that, as a diehard liberal, I used to often find myself frustrated by O’Connor’s decisions. Now, though, as I spend my time teaching and writing about the Roberts court, hardly a week goes by that I don’t find myself missing her presence on the bench.
O’Connor’s approach to deciding cases was pragmatic more than theoretical. She always wanted to know how the court’s decisions would affect real people in the real world. Her opinions were narrow rather than broad; even if she voted against you in one case, you always knew you might get her vote in the next. Unlike some justices who insist on deciding cases by applying rules regardless of their practical effects, O’Connor was never reluctant to exercise her judgment, which, after all, is the essence of judging.