Finding Fulfillment After Retirement
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
I decided to do something about civics education, which has led me down an unexpected path. I started talking to teachers, students and experts about what could be done on this issue. One thing was clear: Civics needs to be brought into the 21st century. Today's technologically savvy students have new methods of civic engagement, and our civics teaching tools need to be aligned with those methods. Younger generations are the leaders in using computers and digital tools to make a difference. So I teamed up with experts in education and technology to help students build on these skills while learning basic civics content. That is how OurCourts.org was born. Through interactive games, social networking and online resources, we hope to help empower the digital generation to lead us into the future as effective, active citizens.
The site's games allow students to step into the shoes of different actors in the civic arena and excites them about government and civic participation. In the first two games on the OurCourts.org website, students can play a clerk to the Supreme Court or they can run a constitutional law firm and learn about the Bill of Rights. The response to this site has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers tell us this is a much-needed resource, and students tell us that they are having fun while learning about the government. Both tell us that they want to see more, so we are hard at work on the next set of games.
That is how I came to discuss video games last summer with young Charlie. After our conversation, he went home and tried the OurCourts.org games. The next morning, he happily told me how much fun he had had. In fact, he played until 11 p.m., when his grandmother told him he needed to stop and go to bed. That was a truly gratifying moment for me, of a different sort than those I had in my preretirement career.
I have had many such unexpectedly satisfying moments since I retired. I have worked on projects on a range of issues—from our national parks to Alzheimer's research. For me, retirement just means working on more than one thing. This is a common experience among my generation. Whether it is caring for spouses or grandchildren, engaging in projects and community activities or taking on whole new careers, retirees are as busy as ever. As for me, I may be officially retired, but I have no plans to stop working.
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