WASHINGTON – In an exclusive interview, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search) said the Supreme Court (search) in which she presides operated under "short time pressure" that made the decision on the 2000 presidential recount "harder for the court" than other cases.
"I think we did the best we could," O'Connor told Fox News Thursday in what may be the most extensive public remarks yet made by a justice on the December 2004 Bush v. Gore (search) court case.
O'Connor said the court was well aware that the circumstances around the decision were "not normal."
"We typically have a great deal more time to get briefs from the parties and to hear it and to resolve it ourselves. And in that instance there were time deadlines established by federal law that superimposed deadlines to which we're not normally accustomed. And it's harder for the court, I think, to operate under a short time schedule," she said.
O'Connor, a modest and self-effacing justice whose influence can be measured by her refusal to flaunt it, said despite the pressure, the court continued to operate according to its standard procedures.
"We heard arguments, we received written briefs, which were actually very well done, even though produced on a very short time schedule," she said.
Nominated in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the Senate just two and a half months later, O'Connor is the first woman to serve on the highest court in the land. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (search) joined O'Connor in 1993.
But O'Connor has distinguished herself in the court by being neither dependably conservative nor reliably liberal, the way most of her colleagues on the court are defined. That said, she shies away from the notion that she commands more power than any other justice because of her independent streak.
The obvious power of the Supreme Court itself, however, is repeatedly demonstrated, and even O'Connor said she is surprised by the impact of landmark cases long after rulings are made.
For instance, O'Connor said she believes that after 30 years, the 1973 abortion ruling Roe v. Wade (search) has failed to achieve the unanimous respect among Americans that the 1954 landmark school-desegregation ruling Brown v. Board of Education (search) did 30 years after its issuance.
She said the sheer volume of mail she gets on the subject of abortion provides a clear picture of the emotional responses the ruling elicits. She adds that despite the massive correspondence on the topic, she tries to avoid letting public opinions impact her decisions on the various cases she has heard relating to the topic.
"I'm not bound [by] and I don't consider what private citizens are trying to tell me what to do. I mean, that isn't relevant to my decision. But I'm very aware in some of these cases that feelings run deep," she said.
Adding that she's thankful there is another woman on the court now to help relieve the pressure, O'Connor said many people mistakenly create expectations about her views on abortion based simply on her gender.
"I think probably because I was the only woman on the court for some of those years, with some of the cases involving abortion, I think every woman in America, probably, wrote me a letter to tell me her views. Some of them, perhaps, more than once," she said.
Fox News' James Rosen contributed to this report.