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The Story Behind The Story: An Interview With Sandra Day O'Connor

While recently retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has been making many public statements lately, it was a rare opportunity to sit down with her for an interview, as "Evening News Sunday" anchor Russ Mitchell did for a segment that aired this weekend.

(You can watch parts I and II of the interview

and . In the video player below, you can watch some additional material from the interview that didn't make air – O'Connor discusses her most challenging case, and explains some of the daily challenges of serving on the Supreme Court.)

So how did the "Evening News" land the interview?

Mitchell credited producer Bonney Kapp with setting it up. "Bonney worked her sources and was able to land an interview that many media outlets had been trying to get for months," Mitchell said. Kapp explained the details in an e-mail: "Back in November/December I read that [O'Connor] was going to be installed as the chancellor of William and Mary. I had a contact there (I did a story a couple years ago and knew the VP of public affairs. And I guess it didn't hurt that W&M is my alma mater.)"

Kapp e-mailed the VP after hearing the news and a few months later he responded, saying an interview might be possible. As O'Connor's installation as chancellor approached, they spoke more frequently to discuss issues like how much time would be needed for the interview. Initially, said Kapp, "it was my understanding that they seemed to want to focus on what she has been doing since she left the court. And by 'they' I mean her people. When the public affairs person relayed that to me, I said we couldn't limit our questions and so he went back one more time to 'them' and they apparently said, 'OK.'"

Landing the interview was due to "mostly luck and a little persistence on our end," said Kapp. "As for why she agreed to do it -- I believe most requests were put through her office and/or the Supreme Court." By going through William & Mary, "we chose the road less traveled, so to speak."

During the interview, O'Connor had some critical comments about the media's handling of the court in general. When Mitchell asked if O'Connor thought the media "get it wrong a lot when it comes to the Supreme Court," the justice responded: "Yes, probably." Mitchell asked how reporters could to a better job and O'Connor said: "Oh, give the Court credit for not making political decisions. Give them credit for trying to resolve the issues fairly sometimes."

O'Connor also explained that she isn't comfortable with some of the labels about her that had developed in the press during her tenure. From the interview:

Mitchell: When people use the term "swing vote" when it comes to you, is it a term that bothers you? You're OK with that?

O'Connor: That's the press that--no, I'm not OK with that. I think that's a term the press developed, and it has no appeal for me.

"Her answers on the subject were certainly interesting," Mitchell told me in an e-mail. "I think the bottom line is she feels we can do a better job in educating the public on how the Supreme Court works. I found her engaging, very thoughtful and charmingly feisty."
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