By Jennifer Patton
Barbara Barrett gave the introduction and spoke about the first time she got to know Justice O’Connor, which was as her intern. Ambassador Barrett was in the first group of interns when Justice O’Connor was in the Arizona State Senate (she was the first woman to serve as the State Senate Majority Leader).
She spoke about her upbringing and family history. Her grandparents (living in Kansas at the time) purchased land in southern Arizona after the Gadsden Purchase (1853); her family opened a cattle ranch near Duncan Arizona. She grew up on the ranch, which she described as a very hard life with a lot of work
She only applied to one school (Stanford) and was accepted; she studied economics and graduated from there as well. She responded to all of the employment ads on the Stanford bulletin board and each of the firms said they wouldn’t interview her because she was a woman.
She visited a law firm that had hired a woman in the past but they informed her there were no funds from the country to pay her salary and no available office, so she agreed to work for free and shared an office with the secretary.
When she moved to Phoenix she opened up her own law firm in a small-suburb and handled local matters. She was appointed to State Senate and became the first woman to serve as Majority Leader for the AZ State Senate.
While on a trip to Virginia, she and her husband drove up to Washington, DC to see the Supreme Court on a Saturday (it was not in session). They walked up the steps and looked at the columns and said to each other “this will be the closest we will ever come to the Supreme Court.”
Her first true test of being a member of the Supreme Court was after she heard her first set of oral arguments and she was in the conference room. The least senior member votes last and the deciding vote of the argument came down to her (it was 4-4).
A replica of Justice O’Connor’s adobe house is a part of a historical exhibit at ASU.
Chief Justice O’Connor took time to responded to a question about ideological clashes and another one about advice for business students by saying the most important thing to do is keep an open mind and “disagree agreeably.” Stressed having a positive outlook and remaining friendly. She was humble about her accomplishments and she still considers herself a simple ranch girl from Arizona.