Social Studies

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Civics Education

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 19, 2009 1 min read

While reporting on trends in civic education, I came across a couple video clips from this spring when retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” produced by Comedy Central.

On the show, she talks about her interest in helping Americans understand the judicial system better, so they won’t make the mistake that some have in perceiving judges as “secular, godless humanists who are trying to tell us what to do.”

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She talks about the development of free interactive videos for middle schools students about the judicial system. The games, produced by Our Courts, were launched just this month.

The justice is quite funny in some of her blunt characterizations about what it’s like to be a member of the highest court of the land, such as that “you have to learn to disagree agreeably,” and that it’s not wise to obsess over cases once a ruling has been made. “You do your best and live with it,” she says.

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She objects to Stewart’s characterization of her as the “swing justice,” and he congenially corrects himself and calls her the “most principled justice.” She tells him that is “much better.”

The justice shows a sense of humor as well when Stewart asks if she’s done any “judging” since she retired from the court. Sure, she says, she can’t help but judge her children and grandchildren sometimes.

I think the video clips could be useful for engaging students in a U.S. government class.

August 20 Update: I interviewed Justice O’Connor for my story about civic education as well, which is online at edweek.org here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.