Sandra Day O’Connor died today. The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court was 93 and had suffered from dementia for a number of years.
Appointed by President Reagan in 1981, O’Connor spent 24 years as a Supreme Court Justice, retiring in 2006. Her New YorkTimes obituary makes an interesting point: while O’Connor was considered a conservative, the current Supreme Court’s increasing right-wing bias makes many of her opinions and rulings appear (gasp!) downright liberal.
Her is a decidedly mixed judicial legacy.
As the Times notes, at her confirmation hearings, she was questioned about the issue of abortion. She “called the procedure ‘offensive’ and ‘repugnant,’ and said that ‘it is something in which I would not engage.’” Yet she defended Roe V. Wade on several occasions.
“One of her most influential roles,” according to Politico, “was in the 5-4 vote in Bush v. Gore, as she joined justices Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in a decision that led to George W. Bush’s 2000 election win.” The consequences of this hotly-contested election are still being felt – most especially in what is and what is not being done to stave off global warming and ecological collapse. Had Al Gore, a passionate environmentalist, reached the White House it is safe to say the planet’s health would be in far better shape than it is.
She supported affirmative action in college admissions. Reuters tells us: “O'Connor wrote in the ruling that colleges must strive for diversity ‘if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realized.’” Reuters also informs the reader that her initial lack of support for gay rights changed over time. “In 1986 she voted to uphold a Georgia law prohibiting sexual relations between homosexuals but voted in 2003 to strike down a similar law in Texas.”
Comparing her to the most recent – Trump-appointed – Justices makes O’Connor seem like a figure from a distant past: a moderate who took the opinions of others into account, a judge who refused to enshrine her own morality as law.
A groundbreaking figure, indeed.
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10 Books Every (Informed) American Should Read
In 2019, the equivalency of knowledge and power is not just an adage, but a warning. However, an American public that stays defiantly informed can also turn knowledge into hope.
Jan. 22, 2019
Author Isaac Asimov once said, "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been.
The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." In 2019, the equivalency of knowledge and power is not just an adage, but a warning. However, an American public that stays defiantly informed can also turn knowledge into hope.
Here are 10 books every (informed) American should read:
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
If you don't read the Steinbeck classics, The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, you're doing yourself a disservice. But, if there's only one Steinbeck book you do make time for, make sure it's his autobiographical travel memoir of taking his lumbering RV and charismatic dog across America. He makes due with whatever conversation and company he finds, not driven by any great American ambition other than finding moments of connection in a diverse landscape.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
One of America's most loved authors, Heller's humor and biting observations capture the precarity of individualism in the face of war. The foundations of American cynicism and anti-war sentiment are encapsulated in the eponymous bureaucratic rule of Catch-22: "a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved."
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
As much as the movie adaptations of Frankenstein's monster are icons in America cinema, the philosophical depths of the novel are sadly lost. Individuality and personal responsibility are two major burdens that neither creator nor creation are capable of managing well. There's also something to be said about the element of spectatorship that Shelley frames the novel with, as the story unfolds through a series of letters and switches narration like a mind-bending Black Mirror episode.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates manages to capture both the history and enduring tension of race relations in modern America in what Toni Morrison calls "required reading." Written as a letter to his son, Coates' writing is an alchemy of memoir, oral history, and calls to action. He aims to explore how "Americans have built an empire on the idea of 'Rae,' a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men...What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live in it?"
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This classic fantasy adventure isn't a political science essay or a philosophical treatise, but the payoff is just as strong–if not stronger. Alienation, otherness, nihilism, and, above all, personal resilience take Arthur Dent through the galaxy after his home (along with the rest of earth) is destroyed one casual morning.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
In the same vein, this sci-fi novel is like Machiavelli's The Prince retold as a dystopian space saga. The value of individual innocence in the face of the greater good is challenged. The series explores the moral boundaries of powerful men using innocents as weapons in a war they can't understand.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Gray's book of essays explores the contradictions inherent in what we understand modern "feminism" to mean. Mixing humor with sharp observation, Gay targets issues as banal as choosing pink as her favorite color as well as timelessly complex matters such as domestic abuse and abortion.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This one also gets named on every list of "books you need to read" because of its plain and eerie predictions of how dependent society will become on media for its opinions and worldview, as well as entertainment.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you can't read the entire canons of solipsism, emotional psychology, and the art of satire, you can absorb the whimsical explorations of The Little Prince. Put simply, a boy prince journeys from planet to planet, each populated by a single adult. His conversations with each one create "a heartfelt exposition of sadness and solitude." Originally written in French, it's universally poetic.
1984 by George Orwell
Knowing the references isn't enough with this classic; again, you have to read it for yourself in order to see dystopian America in your mind's eye. From the cognitive dissonance of war crimes to the contradictions of government propaganda, you need to come to your own conclusions about what an Orwellian future looks like.
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