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Justice O’Connor between 1981 and 1983, https://www.loc.gov/item/2002715166/?loclr=blogcop

The Enduring Legal and Creative Legacy of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

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The following is a guest post by Jessica Chinnadurai, an attorney-advisor in the Office of Public Information and Education.

“When Sandra Day O’Connor, the ‘cowgirl from out west,’ became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, she changed the world and made history.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote these words about her former colleague in a press release on December 1, 2023—the day retired Justice O’Connor passed away and the country reflected on her enduring legacy as a public servant. The other current female justices, Elana Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, similarly commented on Justice O’Connor’s trailblazing career and life. They fondly remembered witnessing her momentous nomination by President Reagan in 1981 and remarked on her leading example, grace, and grit.

Justice O’Connor’s strength of character is often traced back to her early life growing up in the American Southwest. She spent her childhood on a cattle ranch straddling the border of Arizona and New Mexico in desert country. While perhaps most famous for her writing as a Supreme Court justice, she also wrote creative literary works, including the book Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest. Cowritten with her brother, Alan Day, the novel contains photographs from the family’s collection and personal memories that trace her strong work ethic. The book was registered with the Copyright Office in 2002 while Justice O’Connor was still active on the Supreme Court. In 2004, two years before she retired, she registered another book, The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice. She undoubtedly understood the importance of copyright, both as a creator and an influential legal figure.

Justice O'Connor stands in front of a portrait while holding a book.
Justice O’Connor in June 1995, Nancy Lee Katz, photographer, loc.gov/item/2022630422/

During her nearly twenty-five years with the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor wrote the majority opinion for an important decision on copyright law, Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc. Citing a previous fair use decision, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. National Enterprises, which she also penned, Feist reiterated that facts are not protected by copyright and explained why. A work must be original—independently created by an author and possessing at least some minimal degree of creativity—to be copyrightable. The Office continues to cite Feist in Review Board opinions for administrative appeals of copyright registration refusals.

Justice O’Connor referred to the originality requirement as the “touchstone” and “bedrock principle” of copyright and, most importantly, a constitutional requirement. She frequently expressed and exhibited a deep appreciation for the Constitution. In her last archived remarks from February 2015, she recounted an event where she told an audience of young people the routine contents of her purse: a wallet, tissues, a compact, and a copy of the Constitution. In her 2018 letter announcing her retirement from public life, she noted “how vital it is for all citizens to understand our Constitution and unique system of government, and participate actively in their communities.”

She modeled these values, from her time as Arizona’s Assistant Attorney General to her appointments on the Arizona State Senate and Arizona Court of Appeals before her historic nomination to the Supreme Court as the first female justice. After her retirement, she founded iCivics in 2009, a nonprofit organization with a goal of transforming civic education for K-12 students nationwide. Featuring online games and resources, iCivics content is still used by millions of students and teachers across all fifty states. Justice O’Connor’s commitment to the youth of America was inspiring, and she even wrote two children’s books, Chico and Finding Susie, which were also registered with the Copyright Office.

Credit: Rob Crandall/Shutterstock.com

Justice O’Connor’s legal and creative contributions to society exemplify the value of diversity in maintaining a successful copyright system. Often inspired by the communities around her, she once said, “We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone . . . and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.” The Copyright Office celebrates the legacy she created and leaves behind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. I BELIEVE WE NEED A REFERENDUM ON CHANGE,AND ELECT AND NEW GENERATION OF LEADERSHIP IN THIS GREAT NATION OF OURS,AND UNDERSTAND THE PROTECTION OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS,AND WOMEN’S HEALTH ISSUES,IN THE CONSTITUTION THE THIRD AMENDMENT SHOULD READ WOMAN AND SHE AND THE 29TH AMENDMENT SHOULD READ AS A MUCH MORE MODERN FORM OF INCLUSIVENESS AND PERCEPTION OF WHERE WE NEED TO BE .AS FAR AS THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT IS CONCERNED INTO THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE AND OF AN ECONOMIC REFERENDUM ON HOW WE CAN MAKE THIS COUNTRY MORE INCLUSIVE IN TERMS OF JOBS AND EDUCATION,AS JUSTICE O”CONNOR STATED IN MANY OF HER ORAL ARGUMENTS,.I THANK MY MOTHER AND FATHER AND THEIR SUPPORT AND THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN AND THE NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR JEWISH WOMEN FOR THEIR SUGGESTIONS TO ME AS WELL.

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