WASHINGTON – Few institutions are as steeped in tradition and history as the Supreme Court, but Justice Sandra Day O'Connor still sees the body as dynamic and diverse.
The court has six white men, one black man and two white women. They are Roman Catholics, Jews and Protestants. They hail from places as different as Pin Point, Ga., birthplace of the court's only black member, Justice Clarence Thomas, and the Arizona cattle ranch where O'Connor spent her childhood.
"Diversity is its strength, just as it is the strength of America itself," O'Connor writes in a forthcoming memoir.
The comment was not made in the context of a specific Supreme Court case and apparently was written before the court agreed to hear the marquee case of this term, a challenge of the affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan.
O'Connor's new book, "The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice," is part memoir and part historical account. O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the court, likens the process of selecting and confirming a justice to raising children.
"The president only gets to control the process for a brief period, in choosing a particular nominee, and then the justice, like an 18-year-old, is free to ignore the president's view," she wrote.
At 73, O'Connor is among the court's oldest justices and among the longest-serving, having been appointed in 1981. She frequently is mentioned as a possible candidate for retirement at the end of the current session but has announced no plans.
Ronald Regan's choice of O'Connor for the court generated much attention. In the book, O'Connor excerpts some of the mail she got from women delighted that one of their own was picked, and from a few men horrified at the prospect.
"Back to your home and kitchen female!" a letter sent care of the White House read.
A woman advised her on dealing with her male colleagues, "Don't let them push you around."
The book is due from Random House on April 8.