The Power of One: Background
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SPOKESPERSON: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God.
SANDRA DAY O’CONNOR: I do so swear.
KWAME HOLMAN: At her confirmation hearings in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor told the Senate Judiciary Committee she was a judicial conservative.
The first woman on the Supreme Court was appointed by a conservative Republican president, Ronald Reagan.
On a court that has been divided closely on the most controversial issues of the time — race, religion, abortion and states’ rights — Sandra Day O’Connor often has provided the deciding vote. In 2002, O’Connor wrote the key opinion in a landmark affirmative action case.
The court, 5-4, upheld the use of race in deciding admissions at the University of Michigan’s law school, paving the way for colleges and universities to use race to promote diversity on their campuses.
On key abortion decisions, O’Connor has upheld a woman’s right to choose. She played a pivotal role in 1992, refusing to overturn Roe v. Wade. And in 2000, she joined a one-vote majority and wrote a concurring opinion, striking down state laws that restricted procedures known as partial- birth abortion.
In several states rights cases, O’Connor has helped scale back Congress’ power over the states on issues relating to the Americans With Disabilities Act, age discrimination in employment, and violence against women.
Those Supreme Court decisions have shielded the states from lawsuits charging violations of federal law.
In 2002, in another 5-4 decision, O’Connor agreed that school vouchers were permissible under the Constitution. On the campaign finance law championed by Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, O’Connor, once a state legislator herself, sided with those who wanted to rein in campaign money.
The decision, issued late last year, was 5-4, and in perhaps the most controversial case before the court during her tenure, O’Connor voted with the court’s majority in Bush v. Gore, allowing George W. Bush to become president.