Around New England

Democrat Katherine Clark Praises Republican U.S. Supreme Court Appointee Sandra Day O’Connor

December 4, 2023

U.S. Representative Katherine Clark (D-Revere) praised former U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor as “a true public servant and a trailblazing jurist” after O’Connor’s death late last week.

O’Connor was President Ronald Reagan’s first nominee to the federal government’s highest court, in 1981. As a candidate he had promised to appoint the first woman to the court.

But while Reagan was a Republican, Democrats came to appreciate his nominee more than Republicans did, particularly when O’Connor became an essential part of the court’s pro-abortion majority.

O’Connor co-authored the plurality opinion in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld what it called the “essential holding” of Roe v. Wade and claimed that abortion was a “fundamental right” under the U.S. Constitution. The court voted 5-4 in that case, with O’Connor joining the liberal justices.

O’Connor served as a swing vote much during much of her time on the court, usually siding with the liberals on social issues.

She wrote the majority opinion in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, which found that using race to help make admissions decisions is constitutional. That was also a 5-4 decision.

Those votes by O’Connor earned praised from Clark, a left-leaning Democrat who serves as the Democratic whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, making her part of the minority party’s leadership in the House.

“Justice O’Connor crafted landmark rulings that removed barriers to women’s advancement while defending reproductive freedom and safeguarding affirmative action,” Clark said in a written statement Friday, December 1, the day O’Connor died at age 93.

O’Connor resigned from the court in 2006 at age 75.

She was replaced by Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion in Jackson Women’s Health Center v. Dobbs, the June 2022 decision in which the court overturned both Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Roe v. Wade, sending abortion law back to the states.

In June 2023, the court overturned O’Connor’s affirmative action opinion, ruling on a 6-2 vote in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard that using race to make admissions decisions is unconstitutional. The court cited the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee that “No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” and the provision in Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discriminating on the basis of race “under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” as most colleges in the United States do.

 

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