Evan Thomas: 2019 National Book Festival

Evan Thomas: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Michael Martys: I’d like
to introduce Beth Zorc, Senior Vice-president
for Wells Fargo, and she’ll introduce
the presentation. [ Applause ]>>Beth Zorc: Hi, good evening. It’s a pleasure to welcome
you all to tonight’s event. Sandra Day O’Connor
is well-known for being the first
in so many ways. The first female majority leader
of the Arizona State Senate, and of course, the first female
to serve on the Supreme Court. I imagine that most of you
know that earlier today, Nina Totenberg was
interviewing Justice Ginsburg. And during that interview,
for those of you who were lucky enough
to be there in person, there was a discussion of another important
first – the first job. Justice Ginsburg in
fact, referenced the book that you all are here to hear
about tonight, and she said that what is so critical
is that first job. And she describes Sandra
Day O’Connor’s rejection from the top law firms,
despite being first in her class at Stanford. Justice Ginsburg and Justice
O’Connor have both inspired generations of female
lawyers, including myself, to go to law school and to pursue every
type of legal career. In the government, including
the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. Or perhaps at a large law firm. And certainly not as a legal
secretary – the only job that was afforded to
Sandra De O’Connor when she applied to a law firm. To me though, first
is ultimately a story about putting the family
first, and the challenges faced by Sandra De O’Connor are
certainly ones that resonate with working parents today. I have to admit, I
couldn’t help but smile when reading how Justice
O’Connor managed to efficiently and effectively end
the final session of the Arizona State Senate
by telling the other senators that she wasn’t going
to stay all night and watch the men play
cards, but that she was going to make sure that she was home, and that her boys had their bags
packed for camp the next day. Discussing the struggle
and impact of great leaders like Justice O’Connor and
Justice Ginsberg is one of the reasons why the National
Book Festival is so important. And it’s one of the many reasons
why Wells Fargo has been proud to be a charter sponsor
for the last nine years. Wells Fargo is committed to
advancing literacy in reading, and last year, our team members
read to 106,000 children, and donated more
than 58,000 books for our Reading First program. You may have seen
our booth downstairs, where kids are making
bookmarks, and lassoing ponies, and riding the ponies. So now to this evening’s
program. Tonight we have the good
fortune to learn more about Justice O’Connor from acclaimed journalist/author
Evan Thomas. And it’s my pleasure to bring
to the microphone, John Haskell from the Kluge Center at
the Library of Congress, to introduce tonight’s speaker,
author of “First,” Evan Thomas. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>John Haskell: I was just
talking to the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla
Hayden, in the green room. And she wanted me to remind
you all that it’s officially and indisputably a fact, that this is the best free
event in Washington D.C. [ Applause ] And actually, these
presentations are better than a lot of events
that you have to pay for. The Kluge Center is
one of the sponsors of the National Books Festival,
together with Wells Fargo, the “Washington Post,” National
Endowments for the Arts, etc. And we’re proud to
sponsor three of the events on the history stage,
including this one. The Kluge Center’s mission at
the library is to bridge the gap between scholarship, and
the policymaking community, and the interested public,
by bringing leading thinkers in the humanities and social
sciences to the Library of Congress for periods in
residence, to do research in the library collections,
and by showcasing the work of those scholars and
other prominent writers in public events
and in other forums. We have several public events
this fall, on topics as diverse as 100 years of women voting, the Presidential
primaries complicity in the Great recession. I hope you’ll google us at
the Kluge Center, K-l-u-g-e, and look into attending. Today the Library is honored
to have Evan Thomas for the – to discuss his book
on Sandra De O’Connor. Thomas is the author
of 10 books, including the “New York Times”
bestselling, “John Paul Jones.” Also, “Sea of Thunder,”
and “Being Nixon.” He was a writer, correspondent,
and editor for 33 years of “Time” and “Newsweek,”
including 10 years as Newsweek’s Washington
Bureau chief. He’s appeared on TV, and radio,
and many different shows, including “Meet the
Press,” and “Morning Joe,” and he has taught writing
and journalism at Harvard and Princeton, where he
was the fairest professor of journalism from 2007 to 2014. Thomas will be in conversation with Colleen Shogan who’s the
assistant Deputy Librarian for Collections and
Services at the Library. Colleen is also the Vicechair of the Women’s Suffrage
Centennial Commission. Please join me in
welcoming Evan and Colleen. [ Applause ]>>Colleen Shogan: Thanks, John. As he mentioned, you’ve
written a number of books on diverse subjects: the CIA,
Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy. Why turn to Sandra De O’Connor?>>Evan Thomas: She came to me. And I was thrilled. I – It took me one
second to say yes. She had thought about writing
her own memoirs, but a couple of things happened
along the way. One is that as you know, as many of you know, she
has dementia now. And she was in the very
early stages of it then. But also, I think that she
was somebody who wanted to have her story told,
but there’s a part of her that’s very private,
and didn’t really want to tell her own story; wanted
to have somebody else do it. So I was brought in, and
the wonderful thing is that she gave all her papers
to the Library of Congress, and gave me access to them. And they included things like:
her husband’s daily diary of her period in the
Supreme Court; and letters, and pretty much everything
else, as well. You really cannot do a biography
of a Supreme Court Justice, unless you have that
kind of access. Because although they publish
their opinions in ways, it’s an open process
– it’s secret. And I was given this
window in this secret world that was just fascinating.>>Colleen Shogan: The
book begins and really ends with the Lazy B Ranch
– the rural ranch where Sandra De O’Connor
grew up. Can you describe the ranch,
and also talk about why it was so influential in her life?>>Evan Thomas: The Lazy B
Ranch is in the southeast corner of Arizona, and it is
beautiful, and forlorn, and dry. Doesn’t rain there. And they had 160,000 acres. It took a man on
horseback a full day to ride from one end to the other. She called it – she said “It
was like our own country.” The king of this
country was her father, Mr. D. And he was a
pretty autocratic king, a formidable guy. And she liked to tell the story
to her clerks, that when she was about 15, one of her jobs was to
bring lunch out to the roundup. Now the roundup was way the
hell out there on the prairie, and she got up at 5:00 AM,
and she cooked the roast, and cooked the cake,
and got in the car. And on the way out,
she had a flat tire. And so she got out –
she’s a slight girl then, and she had to jump on the
jack to change the tire. She was an hour late
getting to the roundup, and her father looked at
her and said, “You’re late.” And she said, “Well, Dad, I
had to change a flat tire.” And he said, “Next
time leave earlier.” And that was a story she
told her clerks; no excuses. She lived a life of no excuses. And now that’s half the story. She did learn self-reliance
in a big way on this ranch. I mean, her playmates
were cowboys. But there’s another piece
of it that’s important. Her mother, I think in a way, was more influential
in a more subtle way. Her mother is a very
elegant woman, who lived on this dusty ranch,
but always wore a dress, always wore hose, subscribed to
“Vogue,” was very fashionable. And Sandra watched her
mother and father together. And at night Mr. De
could be a bully. He could have a couple
of drinks, and Sandra watched
them together. And her mom was not
submissive, didn’t roll over, but did not pick fights, either. Knew when to walk away, knew
when to not take the bait. That was a very important
thing for Sandra De O’Connor — to learn how to deal
with obnoxious males. She dealt with a lot of
obnoxious males over the year, and she learned how, watching
her mother and her father.>>Colleen Shogan: When
she’s a junior at Stanford, she decides that she
wants to go to law school. Why does she decide to pursue
law, when at that point in American history, it was such
a male-dominated profession?>>You know, she
didn’t even know if she wanted to be a lawyer. She liked to learn. Her favorite course at Stanford
was Western Civilization, Western Civ. And it’s a course, I’m sorry to
say, they don’t teach anymore, because it’s considered
to be too hegemonic, and patriarchal, and all that. But in her day, it
gave her a fascination with the rule of law. I have in her papers at
the Library of Congress, is her final exam
in Western Civ. And it’s a brilliant
– she’s 17 years old. She went to college
when she was 16. It’s a brilliant
treatise on Jefferson, and Madison, and
the rule of law. So she had this innate
fascination. Now she didn’t know if
she wanted to be a lawyer, because as you say, there were
really, very few women lawyers, but she wanted to keep learning.>>Colleen Shogan: When
she’s at law school, she met William Rehnquist. This is one of the big
surprises in the book. Can you talk about the
nature of their relationship, and how it changed over time?>>Evan Thomas: Well,
this surprised us, too, because these – we –
going through her letters at the Library of Congress, we noticed there
weren’t any love letters. My wife, Osce, who worked
with me on this book, and was deeply involved
in this book, and I – where are the love letters? Because I knew she
had a great marriage. So we were over in her
chambers in the Supreme Court, and her longtime secretary
– she was no longer there, but her secretary took us down
to a storeroom in the basement, and there was another box,
marked “Correspondence.” And we said, “What’s in there?” And we got permission
to look in there, and there were the love letters. A lot of love letters between
John O’Connor and Sandra. But also, 14 love letters from Bill Rehnquist
to Sandra O’Connor. Bill Rehnquist was
her classmate. They had gone out as
first-year students. He had gone down to the ranch. He had sort of flunked
the test down there, and they were not
going out anymore. But he went off to be a
clerk in the Supreme Court. In the middle of his third
year, he went actually, to be a Supreme Court clerk. And he was lonely in Washington,
and started writing Sandra, remembering how much
he loved her. And in letter, about
number seven, he says to me, “Will you marry me, Sandy?” They had never told anybody. They never told their
own families. So this is a complete –
I let out a little whoop when I saw this letter. Now this is a happy
story, actually, because she was already
in love with John. She did string along Bill
Rehnquist for a while, but she married John; and they
remained friends, good friends. He as a matter of fact, secretly
lobbied President Reagan to put her on the
court in 1981/81. So they had a wonderful
friendship, but not a marriage.>>Colleen Shogan: So talk
a little bit about the man that becomes her
husband, John O’Connor. What was he like? That’s a big part of the book. What was the nature of their
relationship and their marriage?>>Evan Thomas: John O’Connor, while her own dad
was very intense, John was cheerful and loose. And he made her laugh. And he was incredibly
supportive of her. He was a very strong
guy, himself. I mean, he was a – she –
her grades were better. She was order of
the Coif, top 10%. But he was on Law Review. He was pretty good. And they had a – they
went to Phoenix together, and had a great marriage,
had three kids. And he was ambitious for her,
and she was ambitious for him. Now as it happened,
she got the big plumb. She got the Supreme Court job, and he had to support
her, and he did. And how he did that
– we should talk more about this a little
bit later, but that’s – it is partly a love – this
book is partly a love story.>>Colleen Shogan: Why does
President Reagan decide to nominate Sandra De
O’Connor for the court? Did he know that he wanted
to put a woman on the court? And how does he initially
find out about her? Because at that point
in time, she’s serving in the state court
system in Arizona.>>Evan Thomas: Yeah. She was a middle-level judge,
a state Court of Appeals judge. But couple of things. One is, there really weren’t
that many Republican – I mean, the male – the law is a
male-dominated thing in 1980. Out of 600 federal judges,
only eight are women, and most of them are
liberal Democrats, appointed by President Carter. So there – it was a small pool. Reagan himself, decides to
do this out of – initially, out of political instincts. It’s October, 1980. And he is in Illinois,
a swing state, behind women by 10 points. And his political
aides say, “Hey, you got to do something
here to close the gap.” And so he promises that one of his first appointments
will be a woman. Now he wins the election, and
at the Justice Department, the Attorney General and his
aides don’t really believe he’s going to appoint a woman. They think he’s going
to appoint Bob Bork, who is a true believer,
a good conservative. So they’re getting ready
to appoint Bob Bork when Justice Potter –
Potter Stewart signals that he’s going to quit. But Reagan says,
“No, I’m serious. Unless you cannot find
a qualified woman, I want a woman.” Now James A. Baker, the
President’s Chief of Staff said, “You can be sure he talked
to Nancy about that.” And so they started looking
for a woman, and Bill Rehnquist on the Supreme Court is quietly
lobbying; and Warren Burger, the Chief Justice is
also lobbying for her. And she becomes the –
really, the obvious choice.>>Colleen Shogan: And she
had met Burger earlier, and sort of won him over.>>Evan Thomas: She had
charmed him on a houseboat on Lake Powell in 1979. There’s a photograph of
them on the boat that night. You can tell he’s in love.>>Colleen Shogan: So when
O’Connor arrives to the court, do the other Justices
welcome her with open arms? Does she find the Court, an institution that’s
welcoming to women initially?>>Evan Thomas: Not exactly. Well interesting, she goes
to lunch, and there are – only half the Justices
are there. Only four of them
even come to lunch. They were not all
that glad to see her. They, you know, there had
never been a woman Justice. It’s a totally male world. And they talk to – Justice
Stevens told me – told Osce and me when we went to see him,
that – they said, you know, the job of a Junior Justice
on the Supreme Court is to do a couple things:
take notes and get coffee. So they say, “Well,
tradition is tradition,” but they never asked
her to get coffee. But they were – they could be – they were a little
chilly with her. Justice White, “Whizzer
White,” Byron White – great former all-pro halfback, as well as Supreme
Court Justice – they have a wonderful
tradition in the Court, of shaking hands before
going into their conference, their private meeting. And they always shake hands. And so Justice O’Connor, going
into her very first conference, shakes Justice White’s hand. He crushes it. She goes in to – with
the tears squirting out of her eyes, she said. She’s crying when she goes
to her first conference. Now you know, she got
over it in a hurry, but it was a cold place. Another little story that
was telling of the time, the Chief Justice sends
her a memo of a study by a famous psychiatrist. And what happens when a woman
comes into a man’s world, when a woman joins a group of
powerful men, what happens? He said, “Well, according
to the psychiatrist, the men can be disturbed
by this, and it can be destabilizing.” So what should the woman do? “She should be passive.” Justice O’Connor took this, and just wrote “File
it,” and put it away.>>Colleen Shogan: Right. So of course, we heard from
another Justice this morning. Ruth Bader Ginsberg
made an appearance at the National Book Festival. Can you talk a little bit
about the relationship between O’Connor and Ginsberg? And both Justices were very
involved in women and the law. How were their approaches
similar? How were they different? And was O’Connor a feminist?>>Evan Thomas: That’s
a good question. De O’Connor never called
herself a feminist. She was very – she had grown
up in this man’s world, and she was very careful to –
she was not an avowed activist. Now actually, she
was an activist, but she did it behind
the scenes. One telling example about this: Remember the Equal
Rights Amendment, which is actually making a
little bit of a comeback. It looked like a no-brainer,
that it would pass the states as a Constitutional Amendment
in the late ’60s and ’70s. It was almost uncontroversial,
until Phyllis Schlafly – remember Phyllis Schlafly
– came along in the ’70s, and she led this
campaign against it: That what would happen if the
Equal Rights Amendment passed, women would be drafted, and women would be the
— threaten the men. And all of a sudden, the
political tide turned. Well, Justice O’Connor now is
in the Arizona Legislature. She’s the majority leader of
the – the first ever woman to be the head of a
state legislature. She introduces the ERA
into the legislature, but then she sits on it. It dies in committee, and the
activists were really mad at her for kind of, selling out. Well, quietly behind
the scenes, she is – she’s made a couple
of decisions. One is, “It’s not going to
pass the Arizona Legislature, so I’m not going to waste
political capital on that, because it doesn’t
have a chance. Phyllis Schlafly
is in the state.” Instead, she goes around and
changes every single state law that discriminates
against women. There were dozens of them. She – we – Osce and I
found a list that she made: that you couldn’t
get a credit card if you were a woman in Arizona. It was a property
state, where you had – women had very few legal rights. She changed every single one of
them, because she could do that. She could do – as
majority leader, she could do the local change. Never made a big deal out of it. A lot of this was done
quietly, but very effective. She did what she could achieve,
not what she couldn’t achieve.>>Colleen Shogan:
How did she handle two of the most controversial issues
during her time in the court – namely, Affirmative
Action, and abortion.>>Evan Thomas: Those are
also very telling of her. And take a little bit
of time with these, because it’s important,
and confusing to people. Let’s do abortion first. When she came on the Court,
she’s a Reagan appointee. And Harry Blackmun,
who wrote Roe v. Wade, the Court’s famous
abortion decision in 1973, thinks that she is going to be
a vote to reverse Roe v. Wade. And he’s really upset –
he’s very cranky with her, very difficult with her. In fact, he’s sort
of funny; he’s – he – he’s also a little difficult
with Rehnquist when – I mentioned earlier that
Justice Rehnquist was – The other Justices didn’t know
that Rehnquist had proposed to her, but they
knew they had dated. So they – when Sandra – when
Justice O’Connor first came on the Court, Harry Blackmun
turned to Rehnquist and said, “Now, no fooling around.” But he – Byron was right, that Justice O’Connor
had great misgivings about abortion, personally. She said she found it repugnant. But she did not vote to reverse. Instead, she becomes the
5th vote to save Roe – to save a woman’s
right to an abortion. She changes Blackmun’s
standard; she does. But she does give, under her
standard, states have the right to impose some restraints
on abortion, as long as it is not a, quote,
“undue burden,” on the right of a woman to have an abortion. Now what’s an undue burden? They’re still litigating that. This makes the purists unhappy. It’s a compromise. It’s a classic O’Connor
compromise. She preserves the precedent. She does preserve a woman’s
right to an abortion, but she gives the states
some right to control it. It’s a little murky; how much? They’ve been fighting
about it ever since. That’s a classic O’Connor,
down-the-middle compromise. She made the law on abortion,
famously in the Casey case. That’s still the
law of the land. As you know, it may change, if Ruth Bader Ginsberg doesn’t
make it, and she’s replaced, you know, [inaudible] but for a
long time, O’Connor made the law of the land to preserve a
woman’s right to abortion. On Affirmative Action,
it’s a similar story. Justice O’Connor did not
like explicit quotas. She voted against Affirmative
Action on a number of cases, on job hiring and
federal set-asides. But she is the 5th vote to preserve Affirmative
Action and higher education. Now why? She was uncomfortable
with identity politics. She went to the University
of Michigan Law School, and saw all these posters
of all these groups, and it made her uncomfortable. But she’s the 5th vote. Why? Because she’s
very practical. Justice O’Connor is a
very pragmatic person. She’s not ideological. She’s not really –
doesn’t – not associated with any particular doctrine. She’s looking at – when
she made a decision, she looked at the
results on the ground. And she saw, for
instance, in California, there’s a state referendum. There was a state referendum that abolishes Affirmative
Action in the state of California. What happened? At UCLA and Berkley,
the percentage of African-Americans had
at the top two law schools, goes down to about 1%. She says, “That’s not
acceptable to me.’ Her view was that law
schools are training grounds for leaders. And in fact, I think one out of
four U.S. Senators is a lawyer. And so she said, you
know, “We got to have, at the top law schools, I want to see African-Americans
in there.” She also was very affected
by a brief by the military, by former chiefs of the – Joint
Chiefs of Staff, who argued, ‘Look, in the military
we do affirmative action, and it works.” That influenced her. And that’s why she voted to
preserve Affirmative action, over the squawks and squeals
of a lot of conservatives who thought that she
had sold them out.>>Colleen Shogan:
As you mentioned, you describe her
jurisprudence is pragmatic. You also say that she’s
a judicial minimalist. How do you answer critics,
that she was unprincipled?>>Evan Thomas: Well,
the argument is that she doesn’t stand for
any particular doctrine. And you know, that
argument has some merit. But I think she was a
principled pragmatist. If you follow it all the
way through, and I have – you can find certain things
that she is focused on. And she was always sensitive to finding a middle ground
on big social issues. Why? Because her view of
the Supreme Court was not that it’s the last word. I mean, we think of – it’s
the final court of appeal. That’s not the way
she looked at it. She saw the Supreme Court
as in a constant dialogue with the other branches
of government: with the Executive
branch, with Congress — particularly on these
difficult, big issues — to slowly move the law
along, but never get too far out of step with public opinion. She’s not – didn’t sit around,
reading the polls, but she knew on abortion, for instance, that
about a third of the country is against abortion, no matter
what, and about a third is for abortion, no matter what,
and about a third is, “Well, I’m for abortion under
some circumstances.” She’s in the middle third,
because she thought that’s where – she read the newspapers. That’s where the country
was, and she thought that these things ought to
be worked out very slowly. They called her a minimalist, because she liked
narrow decisions that didn’t go too far. She didn’t quote Learned
Hand, but I always think of this great Learned
Hand quote. Learned Hand was a famous
Federal judge who said, “The spirit of levity is the
spirit that’s not too sure it’s right.” And that’s the way she was. She was a minimalist –
“Let’s not rush into this. Let’s do it slowly. Let’s be sensitive. Let’s be careful
about precedent, but let’s be responsive to the
felt necessities of the time.” As Justice Holmes said, “To the
felt necessities of the time.”>>Colleen Shogan: As a Justice, did she become more
liberal over time? And if so, why?>>Evan Thomas: Well,
we asked this question – Osce and I asked this
question of Justice Stevens. We said, “Do you think that Justice O’Connor
moved to the left?” And he said, “Yes.” And we said, “Really? Why?” And his two-word
answer was, “Justice Scalia.” [ Laughter ] Now he was kidding,
but only partly. That’s an interesting story, because Justice O’Connor
welcomed Justice Scalia to the Court when he came on
in 1986, because he was vibrant and lively, and the
Court was kind of sleepy. It was getting old, and
the Justices weren’t coming to lunch, and it was
kind of a sleepy place. And she knew it would
give it a – that Justice Scalia
would give it a – Justice Scalia would
give it a shot of vigor and intellectual [inaudible]
But Justice Scalia was one of those people who suffers from smartest kid in
the room syndrome. He just cannot – and the room in
this case is the conference room of the U.S. Supreme Court. And he just couldn’t
help himself. He would send out
these “ninograms,” instructing other
Justices on what – on their grammar,
and what to think. This offended Justice
O’Connor, who really believed in getting along, and
not being preached to. And also, Justice Scalia
was right rude to her, on abortion in particular, when Justice O’Connor did
not go along with getting rid of Roe v. Wade in
the Webster case. Justice Scalia wrote an
opinion in which he said that, “Justice O’Connor’s opinion
cannot be taken seriously.” That’s a harsh thing for a
Supreme Court Justice to write. Now with her clerks
and in public, Justice O’Connor didn’t
show any resentment. In fact, when her clerks tried to write a little nasty
responses into their – into her opinion,
she’d take them out. But she noticed it. We were – we have a friend who
played tennis doubles with her, and John O’Connor,
Sandra O’Connor’s husband, said of a doubles
game with Scalia – because he could see there
was a little bad blood there. And O’Connor spent
the entire game trying to drill Justice
Scalia a net, and he – she was a better
player than he was. When it was over, Justice
Scalia said to our friend, Dr. [inaudible] “We’re
never doing that again.”>>Colleen Shogan: Yeah. Why did she side with the
majority in Bush v. Gore?>>Evan Thomas: This
is a – her – by far, her most controversial case, and in her own mind,
a controversial case. And I’m going to take a
little time with this, to give you the background, because this is still
a sensitive subject. You all remember the case. 2000, the vote is
basically a tie. Bush is ahead by 500
votes in Florida. Remember the hanging chads? So they have to do
– there’s a recount. And the recount goes on, but the
Republican Secretary of State, Katherine Harris,
certifies a Bush victory. The Gore campaign objects,
wants the recount to go on, and it goes to the
Supreme Court. By a five-to-four vote, the
Supreme Court stops the recount, effectively electing
George Bush. Now the problem is, the five are
all conservative Republicans, and the four who wanted to go
on, are Democrats or liberals. It looks like a purely
political thing. It just – [inaudible] who likes
to say we’re not political, five-four, conservatives
on one side, liberals on the other,
looks really bad. Sandra O’Connor is in the five, and so she took a
lot of heat for this. And she’s a political person. She’s still Republican. She had been a Republican
in the Arizona Legislature. Why did she vote this way? Because she is practical, and
she can look down the road. And Justice Ginsberg actually
first told us about this. Under the law – there
is a law on this. What happens if there
are two sets of electors? Now assume the Supreme Court
had said the recount can go on, which is what the
Gore folks wanted. You could’ve had – and assume
that Gore won the recount. Now there would be
two sets of electors. The electors certified by the
Republican Secretary of State, and a Democratic group. There’s a law for this, 3USC15, that says when there
are two sets of electors, it goes
to Congress. The House has a vote, one vote,
and the Senate has one vote. Now the House was
going to be Republican, and the Senate was
going to be Democratic. The law says if there’s
a tie, if the House and Senate can’t
agree, the tie is broken by the governor of the state. His name was Jeb Bush. She said, you know, it was going
to look like a banana republic. So her view was, we’re going
to take the hit ourselves now. She got a lot of heat for this. She knew it. She was not that comfortable
with it, and it’s true that 10 years later, she
told the Chicago Tribune, “Maybe -” editorial board – “Maybe we shouldn’t
have taken the case. Maybe we should’ve let
the process go on.” So I asked her about this. And she said, “I have regrets, but regrets don’t
do you any good.”>>Colleen Shogan: Last question
before we go to the audience. At a time in which
polarization and partisanship is at an all-time high in this
country, you’ve written a book about an ardent moderate.>>Evan Thomas: I’ll say.>>Colleen Shogan:
Why do you think that the American people
should revisit the story of Sandra De O’Connor
at this moment in time? And are there other lessons that you hope people
will take from your book?>>Evan Thomas: Well, if
there is a lesson from her, and it’s the one that she
cared about her legacy – Sandra O’Connor was religious. I mean, she didn’t go
to church a whole lot. She usually went some to
the National Cathedral, but she didn’t in Arizona. Her church was the giant sky. You know, she would look out at those stars
at night and see God. But she was a spiritual person, but I think her real religion
was kind of a civic religion. She had a belief in civic
life, in being civil, and in our capacity
to get along. And I mentioned earlier
that she didn’t think of the Supreme Court
as the last resort. It was part of this
ongoing conversation. And she really believed in that. And she – I mean, she did little
things that kind of surprise me. When – there was a lot of
instability in Congress in the ’90s, along
about the time of the – of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. She summoned, secretly
summoned the majority leader, Tom Daschle, and
the minority leader, Trent Lott from the Senate,
and had them into her chambers, and lectured them on civility. They were kind of
taken aback by this. I mean, this was slightly,
not what the separation of powers is all about. But it shows you how
urgently she felt about this. And I know that her last public
statement was when Congress hung up Merrick Garland’s
nomination to the Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor
said, “oh, come on, appoint – and she’s Republican. “Get on with it. Let’s get on with it.” And that’s her view. “Let’s get on with it. Let’s make it work.”>>Colleen Shogan: Great. Question over here.>>Thank you. I appreciate that
you’ve written this book. I didn’t, as a woman lawyer,
but I wanted to ask a question about you as an author. A friend of mine reminded me that you’re actually the
grandson of Norman Thomas, the great socialist thinker.>>Evan Thomas: I am.>>And I just wondered if
you – he lived a long life. I just wonder if you
care to briefly comment about whether you’re
close to him, and also whether you would
ever write about your family, as I think David Moran has just
wrote about his – thank you.>>Evan Thomas: Yeah. I just had lunch with David
Moran, and I said, “Man, it’s tough to write
about your family.” It is tough. He mentioned to me that he wrote
about his father after he died. I love my grandfather. He was a wonderful man. He was not the world’s
greatest father in the world, because he was off, saving the
world as a Socialist candidate. He ran for President six times. So for my father, he
was not a good father. But as a grandfather,
he was a loving figure. And my great disappointment
was that I was coming back from school to ask
him about Socialism, and how he could reconcile
it with human nature, and he died in 1968, so I never
got to ask him the question. But I certainly knew
him and I loved him.>>Colleen Shogan: Over here.>>Hi. From reading her book,
from the one she wrote long ago, in observing her life, one of
the things that surprised me in the book was how
politically savvy she was from a young age, really. And then also, what a
social animal she was. And growing up in
such isolation, where did that come from?>>Evan Thomas: That’s
a right good question. She had to get along with people who weren’t naturally
her friends. Her playmates were
these dirty cowboys. When she was born on this ranch, no electricity, no
running water. Once a week, Mrs. De
would take a bath, and then all the cowboys
would take a bath. I mean, it was really rough, and
she had to put up with a lot. And she learned how to
get along with people. In fact, the first time I
really spent time with her, she had already been
diagnosed with dementia. I watched her work a
room of 150 people. You’d never know that
anything was wrong with her. She just – some people
have the knack. She did. She had a way of
looking you in the eye. She was a little scary that way,
but also, being totally focused on you, in the way that really
great communicators have. She did; she scared her clerks. It’s a funny story. She was a – she cared
about them being fit. So the women had to
go to aerobics class with her in the morning. The men had to stay fit, too. One of them was eating
an ice cream cone. She came around the corner, and he put the ice cream
cone in a drawer, so – [ Laughter ]>>colleen Shogan: Over here.>>I’m wondering if
she read the book, and what she thought
of the book?>>Evan Thomas: She –
we gave her the book. This is a sad story for me. She has advanced dementia now. So I, you know, I
sat there with her. I showed her the pictures. She recognizes her own family
now, but that’s about it.>>Two questions. One, she was I think, the
last Supreme Court Justice who actually had some
political experience. And there’s been this argument
that maybe we should go back to appointing justices who
understand the politics. So could you comment on that? And secondly, I’d
like you to talk about her leaving the court. Because I know in
reading the book, you suggest she thought she
may have made a mistake.>>Evan Thomas: Yeah. She is – was the last Justice who actually – to
run for office. And they’re all appellate
court judges now, I guess, except for – you know, I mean,
she was the solicitor general.>>Kagan.>>Kagan. I’m sorry. Justice Kagan, who now,
actually occupies Justice O’Connor’s chambers. And when we met with her,
was very affected by that, because she saw Justice O’Connor
– I’m going to tell you a story that was very revealing to me. Justice – when we met
with Justice Thomas – I had a hard time
getting an interview, but I finally got one. And he said, “You know,
when I came on the court – the Anita Hill hearings
had been terrible. He said, “I felt hammered. I was feeling hammered. And I was walking back after
my first conference, alone. And she walked with me. And I – she said to me,
‘You know, Clarence, those hearings were very
damaging.'” And he said – Justice Thomas said, “I
didn’t know what to say, because they were
damaging to me personally, but they were damaging to
the court, and the country, and so I didn’t say anything.” The next day she
walked with him again. And the next day,
and the next day. And she said, “You
know, Clarence, you got to come to lunch.” And finally she said, “Clarence,
you got to come to lunch.” And he said, “I did.” He said, “I finally came, and
I – it changed everything.” He had been brooding, and alone. And he’s not ideologically
close to her at all, but he said that
she was the glue. She was what held
this court together. It was cold before
she got there. I gather it’s a little
cold right now. But she really made a
difference, just with her – in fact, if – Justice
Sotomayor told us that she wouldn’t make
people go to lunch by just showing up
in their office. She’d just sit there until
they went to lunch with her.>>Colleen Shogan: Over here.>>What was her biggest
regret as a ruling Justice, and what was the ruling
she was most proud of?>>Evan Thomas: She said
she regretted – she voted – she really did not like Citizens
United after she left the Court. She thought the Court
had gone too far, to say that spending money
on politics was speech, under the 1st Amendment. She’d actually voted that
way in an earlier case. She regretted that decision. She – the only time she’s
explicitly regretted a vote. I know she had some
misgivings about Bush v. Gore, that I described earlier. Her favorite case was
called Strickland. It was about, what’s
effective counsel? Very technical, and not
a huge interest here, but she was a very
good technical lawyer. You know, she was amazing. She was the most sociable
Supreme Court Justice in history. I know that’s not saying
a lot, but she was. She went out all the time, and
she went out, interestingly, she had to balance
a couple of things. She had to read 1,000 pages
a night, and she really cared about the technical side. Her – she called the
shots with her clerks. It was – she was in
charge of her chambers. But she also cared about John. Because John – when
John came to Washington, he’d been the big
deal in Arizona, in Phoenix, the big lawyer. He was head of the
Rotary, and all that. Not so much in Washington. In fact, it didn’t work
out at his law firm. And she went out a lot so that
he could be the social lion. At dinner, she wouldn’t
say much. She’d let him talk,
and crack jokes. He’s a great storyteller,
and dance. He loved to dance. And she liked to dance, but
he really liked to dance. And she did it for him, even
knowing – she told me this – that it cut back on her time,
reading all those cases. Fortunately, she
was a speed reader. She just – she was somebody –
and I guess, she had to be this, to have three kids, and a
good marriage, and all that – who never had any downtime. The joke was, the Arizona
Legislature, “With Sandy, there’s no Miller time.” She never – her kids
said she never sat on the couch and watched TV. She was going all the time.>>Colleen Shogan: Over here.>>Excellent. As a former civics teacher,
I’m really grateful for all of her stuff she did
for Civics education. Could you just talk just
a little bit in general, about her post-Supreme
Court life, and how she took on the cause of civics
education, and all of that?>>Evan Thomas: She sure did. She said, “I have five
years to be relevant.” I was asked about her leaving. I want to get back to that,
her leaving the court. Well, let me do this now. She left the court, because her
husband, John got Alzheimer’s. And she tried to
take care of him. She would bring John
to her chambers. He would fall asleep
on the bench there. And it just became too much. And one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be
that you can’t sleep. They slept in the same bed. They had slept in
the same bed forever. He couldn’t sleep;
she couldn’t sleep. And so she retired
to take care of him. But within six months, he
could not recognize her. And this happened – it happens
with Alzheimer’s patients; he formed what they call
a mistaken attachment. He had a girlfriend. Not a – somebody
he held hands with. How did she deal with this? Well, she would go in and
hold John’s other hand. Now she was heartbroken by
this, but she said, “You know, he was – had been
depressed; now he’s happy.” She – typically,
in her Western way, you know, made the most of it. But she also traveled
relentlessly. She just – she traveled –
and she traveled in the cause of civics, of making people
believe in civic government. And she started this
organization called iCivics, which does – she knew that kids
today are not taught civics. And because civics in books are
boring, and she just – so she – even though she couldn’t
even do email, she starts this company
called iCivics, which sends out videogames
about how you – how a bill passes Congress. Civics – it’s called iCivics. How a bill passes
Congress – it’s now – these videogames reach
6 million kids – a lot. 6 million kids a year. So that is an important
legacy for her.>>Colleen Shogan: Absolutely. We partner with iCivics at
the Library of Congress. So we’re very happy
to work with them. Thank you so much for
sharing your thoughts with us. And you can have the
book signed by Mr. Thomas at 6:30 in the signing lines. Thank you. [ Applause ]

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