Finding Fulfillment After Retirement
Thefirst woman appointed to the Supreme Court may havestepped down from her bench, but Sandra Day O'Connor has no plans to stop working.This past summer, I stayed at a house in a vacation community next to a family with a sixth-grade child named Charlie. One day, I found myself talking to Charlie about computers and encouraging him to play a video game—my computer game, one of several computer games I have been working on since my retirement from the Supreme Court. The world of online gaming was not one that I ever anticipated I would enter. But my new website, OurCourts.org, includes a series of online games and resources for youngsters just like Charlie. Let me tell you something about how my involvement came about.
Three years ago, I retired from the Supreme Court to take care of my husband, who has Alzheimer's disease. I have had to make some difficult decisions in my life, juggling my career and family, but this one was not a close call. John needed my care, and after 56 years of marriage, I was going to make sure he got it. At the time, I did not give much thought to what retirement would have in store for me. But I have always liked to keep busy, and it wasn't long before I found new challenges and opportunities.
Part of my postretirement career can be credited to Congress. Few people know that retired Supreme Court justices are required by law to sit on the lower federal courts. Now I decide cases with federal appellate court judges whose rulings I have reviewed on the Supreme Court. My opinions can be appealed and even reversed by my former colleagues on the Supreme Court. Judging is a fulfilling and challenging vocation, and it is good to hear a case now and then and to keep active in that world. But much of my time is now devoted to projects outside of my judicial role. I spent many years as a judge and almost all of my career in public service. Retirement gave me the freedom to step back and think about other types of contributions I could make.
One contribution I hope to make is on the issue of judicial independence. Judges must be able to decide cases without political pressure or fear of retaliation by the other branches of government. I am concerned that public hostility against judges is on the rise and that politically motivated groups are more determined than ever to try to affect judges' decisions. In working to educate the public about this issue, I realized that we face an even more fundamental problem. Before the public can appreciate the need for judicial independence, citizens need an understanding of how our government works in general. Unfortunately, we are failing to teach our young people this basic civic information.
What Justice O'Connor is working on now
Photo: Dane Penland, Smithsonian Institution, courtesy of the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States. This photograph may not be used for any advertising or commercial endorsements purposes, or in any way which conveys a false impression of Supreme Court sponsorship or approval.