With the nation divided into red and blue states, and both sides peering out from their political bunkers at the spectacle of more power lobbying and a potential filibuster over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, it’s worth a look back at the moment when Sandra Day O’Connor joined the high court. She, too, was appointed by a very conservative President Ronald Reagan, but she sailed through — because times were different, because Reagan wasn’t Bush and because, honestly, everybody wanted to see a woman on the Supreme Court. Democrats now have to decide: do they want a woman on the court more than they hate Bush? Others can dissect the Miers nomination but if the Democrats decide they can’t stop this one, we may get a re-run from 1981. Here’s a look back to the moment when the first woman was about to crash the party that first Monday in October.
In an article entitled "The Brethren’s First Sister", Time gave a rave review to O’Connor and even to Reagan for selecting her, calling her a "Supreme Court nominee and a triumph for common sense."
Ronald Reagan lived up to a campaign pledge last week, and the nation cheered. At a hastily arranged television appearance in the White House press room, the President referred to his promise as a candidate that he would name a woman to the Supreme Court, explaining: "That is not to say I would appoint a woman merely to do so. That would not be fair to women, nor to future generations of all Americans whose lives are so deeply affected by decisions of the court. Rather, I pledged to appoint a woman who meets the very high standards I demand of all court appointees."
It’s interesting to note that Reagan received high marks from his political opponents and the middle, but also faced, like Bush, some thunder from the right.
After naming O’Connor, the President suddenly found himself awash in praise from a wide range of political liberals, moderates and old-guard conservatives. At the same time, he was under harsh assault from the moral-issue zealots in the New Right who helped him reach the Oval Office. Although they had little chance of blocking the nomination, they charged that O’Connor was a closet supporter of the ERA and favored abortion.
Even Tip O’Neill said that the nomination was "the best thing he’s done (Reagan) since he was inaugurated." I’m trying to use my imagination here and see if I can conjure an image of any Democrat praising any nominee that Bush puts forward. I guess that Harry Reid has done that now, but I can’t see Nancy Pelosi saying words like her predecessor. She may, however, be equally powerless to stop this nomination.
Still, if you’re looking to understand why everybody’s so fired up about Bush’s new nominee, just look at that date on the issue. July, 1981 — 24 years ago. These things don’t come around that often and they do matter. What was so shocking and ground-breaking then has changed to the point that Bush probably felt compelled to fill the vacacancy with a woman. Actions do have consequences.
Instant History is all about the "first draft" of history. For over seven decades, both Time and Newsweek have provided a weekly snapshot of our lives — sometimes profoundly insightful and other times woefully inadequate but, in all cases, before conventional wisdom has time to set in. Like today’s blogs…
Bryce Zabel is a working screenwriter/producer whose current credits include The Poseidon Adventure and Blackbeard. He was chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences from 2001-2003. He maintains two other blogs: his flagship News! — Views! — & Schmooze! and Movies-Squared.