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Sandra Day O’Connor

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Copy of Justice O’Connor’s first opinion for the Supreme Court, signed with a huge full signature

Sandra Day O’Connor, 1930–.  Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1981–2006.  Copy of Supreme Court opinion signed Sandra Day O’Connor.

This is photo copy of the first opinion that Justice O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, wrote for the Court after her appointment in 1981.  She has signed at the bottom with an extraordinary 5½” long full signature.

The opinion is a unanimous decision in Watt v. Energy Action Educational Foundation, 454 U.S. 151 (1981), which reversed a lower court ruling that required the Secretary of the Interior to experiment with certain systems for bidding for leases on tracts of land on the Outer Continental Shelf.  The 18-page decision exhibited O’Connor’s usual conservative approach to adjudication, leaving policy decisions to Congress:  “It is not for us, or for the Court of Appeals, to decide whether the Secretary of the Interior is well advised to forgo experimentation with . . . alternatives,” she wrote.  “That question is for Congress alone to answer in the exercise of its oversight powers.”  Id. at 168–69. 

The assignment of this case to O’Connor is typical of the way the Supreme Court treats the newest Justice.  After the Court hears argument, the Justices convene in conference to take tentative votes on the cases.  The senior Justice in the majority—the Chief Justice if he is in the majority, or otherwise the senior Associate Justice in the majority—assigns the task of writing the Court’s opinion in each case to one of the Justices in the majority.  The practice is to assign the newest Justice an opinion in which the vote is unanimous in order to avoid having other Justices dissent from the ruling.  In this case, the Court was unanimous, and O’Connor drew the assignment from then-Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.

O’Connor has signed this piece in black felt-tip pen.  The piece itself consists of 19 pages copied from United States Reports, the official reports of Supreme Court decisions.  The pages are stapled together at the upper left.  The piece is extra fine.        


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