When she retired from the Court in 2006, she immediately became an outspoken critic of the overuse of the phrase "judicial activism" to describe the art and science of judging. She's right in the middle of that debate to this day; a debate made more topical by the nomination earlier this week of 2nd U.S. Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the High Court.
Judge Sotomayor was immediately labeled a "liberal, judicial activist" by conservative critics. Once Sotomayor's supporters realize there is plenty of sound videoof Connor mocking those who mock "judicial activists" I'm sure we'll start seeing those clips become part of the broader conversation about Judge Sotomayor's qualifications and judicial philosophy. It's one thing for conservatives to hammer Sotomayor on the charge; it's another thing for them to go after the beloved O'Connor, a Reagan appointee and the first woman on the Court.
In the meantime, Team Sotomayor (in the form of People for the American Way) already is using O'Connor's comments from a March 1982 interview with the Ladies Home Journal to try to blunt the charge that the current nominee is out of line to suggest, as she did in 2001, that her experiences as a woman of color necessarily impact her jurisprudence. Here's what O'Connor is quoted as saying:
"I think that I bring to the Court differences in background that are more germane than my gender… My experience as a legislator gives me a different perspective. Also, I bring to the court the perspective of a woman primarily in a sense that I am female,just as I am white, a college graduate, etc… Yes, I will bring the understanding of a woman to the court, but I doubt that that alone will affect my decisions…I think the important fact about my appointment is not that I will decide cases as a woman, but that I am a woman who will get to decide cases."
I suspect that if Judge Sotomayor were to get a do-over on her 2001 comments she would say something a little more along the lines of what O'Connor said 19 years earlier. The point is that it's not unfair to say they both probably meant the same thing.