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Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Visits Law School and Humphrey Institute

FEBRUARY 11, 2010—Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made a brief visit to the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus on Feb. 10, 2010. She was the featured guest at a luncheon at the Law School, and in the afternoon she spoke at the annual bipartisan Legislative Policy Conference at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Justice O'Connor was accompanied by Theresa Spahn, director of the Judicial Selection Initiative at the University of Denver's Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. Justice O'Connor was the force behind formation of the Initiative, intended to accelerate judicial selection reform.

Law School Dean David Wippman offered welcoming remarks and introduced speaker Leo Brisbois, head of Minnesota's Coalition for Impartial Justice and president of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

To the delight of the audience of approximately 35, Justice O'Connor also spoke. She mentioned Minnesota's highly respected leadership role across the nation and encouraged leaders to back judicial selection reform efforts, including Minnesota's Impartial Court Amendment. In attendance at the luncheon were Minnesota Senator Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope) and Representative Steve Simon ('96) (DFL-St. Louis Park), who helped draft the Amendment.

A system of choosing judges on the basis of merit rather than through direct elections is critical to preserving judicial impartiality and to avoiding the expense and acrimony of campaigns, Justice O'Connor said. The United States is the only nation in the world that elects judges, she continued, noting that people in other countries are very surprised when they hear about the process.

Among the audience were Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson; former Chief Justice Russell A. Anderson ('68); and Supreme Court Associate Justices G. Barry Anderson ('79), Lorie Skjerven Gildea, Helen Meyer, and Alan Page ('78). Additional members of the judiciary were Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diana Murphy ('74) and District Court Judge Pamela G. Alexander ('77).

Former Minnesota Governor Al Quie and Minnesota's Secretary of State Mark Ritchie were present, as were past and present leaders of the county and state bar associations.

Directors of the League of Women Voters, the Citizens League, the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, and the Minnesota AFL-CIO also attended, along with representatives from Minnesotans for Impartial Courts and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Justice O'Connor graduated from Stanford Law School in 1952. Unable to find a firm that would hire a woman lawyer, she worked in public service and in Europe while her husband was on military duty. From 1965—1969, she was Arizona's Assistant Attorney General. She became an Arizona State Senator in 1969, and in the time allowed by two re-elections, she helped Arizona create a merit selection system for judges. She was a judge in Arizona's Maricopa County Superior Court from 1975-79, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. In 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed her to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first woman to hold the post. She retired from the bench in 2006.

At present, she is a Chancellor of the College of William & Mary and a frequent speaker on judicial selection reform.

Portrait of O'Connor

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor