The day I argued a case to Sandra Day O’Conner

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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner announced that she has dementia, and is likely suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  In a wonderfully written letter, she encourages others to pick up her efforts to teach civics to students in America.

I once argued a case to Sandra Day O’Conner.  In 2009, after her retirement from the United States Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Conner was acting as an associate judge for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.  I had a case pending with the 6th Circuit relating to claims in a bankruptcy case.

A few days before the oral argument in my case, I was contacted by the Sixth Circuit and advised that I would need to arrive early for my argument, and check in through the security measures that were taking place for arguments that day.  I had argued in cases before, and this was an odd call.  I asked what was new, and was told I would be informed on the day of my argument.

When I arrived for my argument that day, I was meet by a court clerk, that required me to present my identification and sign in.  I was also told, once admitted into the Court, I could not leave the room.  This was odd for attorney’s arguing cases in the Court, especially since I was not the first argument set for that day.  I asked again what was going on, and I was told that Justice O’Conner was a part of my panel.

I watched the arguments before mine.  Justice O’Conner was engaging all the counsel arguing cases that day.  She had her own binders for each case, that were supplied by her daughter who was acting as her clerk for the day.  In each case she knew every case quoted, some cases that were not, and she had questions, lots of great questions.

When it was my turn to argue, she was equally engaging.  Questioning both counsel as to both the strengths and weaknesses of their cases.  She knew the law on both sides better than the counsel arguing the case.  She was impossible to read and did not tip her hand at all as to which side she favored.  I had never before nor since argued a case to a judge who was so well versed in the law of the case they were going to decide, and acted in such a even handed manner.  I was beyond impressed, I still can’t put into words how impressed I was with her.  She decided cases on the US Supreme Court for more than 20 years, and after that had still had the desire to participate in cases as an associate justice on cases that were without any political or social ramifications.

I have never argued a case in the United States Supreme Court, nor in front of any other justices.  Maybe they all are as great as Sandra Day O’Conner was, however I have my doubts.

Unfortunately, all of us are subject to the passage of time and human frailty.  It makes me sad that such a mind, and wonderful jurist will no longer be participating in the legal community.   She will be missed.  I hope she lives out her days peacefully, and has a few moments where her mind allows her to clearly reflect on the impact she made to this country.   I hope some day she receives the thanks and gratitude from this nation that she so greatly deserves, for all of her contributions.

I compare all judges to her example, and will as long as I practice law.  Thus far, none have been up to her standard.

When I read the letter that she published today, I felt I needed to write this down.   Her legacy should not read “the first woman on the United States Supreme Court” which was included in every article written about her.  Her legacy is – Great Justice.

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