On Monday, September 13, 2021, PBS will premiere the documentary “Sandra Day O’Connor: The First.” I’ve already got my favorite chair reserved and the popcorn popped. PBS most likely chose this date because it just before the 40th anniversary of Sandra officially becoming a Supreme Court Justice.
Sandra’s swearing on September 25, 1981 was a momentous event for the Day family. One of those you never forget. My family, including my parents, flew to Washington D.C., a city that I had only visited a handful of times. Just setting foot inside the Supreme Court Building was awe-inspiring. The Great Hall with all the busts of the justices quickly became one of my favorites. After a tour, we were ushered into the courtroom and seated in the section reserved for special guests. President Reagan did the swearing in. It all felt a bit surreal.
A reception followed. Though I can’t recall where it took place, two things stand out in my mind. First, is my sister Ann’s husband, Scott Alexander, who at the time was an Arizona state senator. Scott was big on meeting people. As President Reagan walked past our table on his way to the reception line, Scott jumped toward him to shake his hand. This abrupt action caused the Secret Service agent next to Reagan to draw back, ready to pummel Scott. If Scott had taken one more step, this guy would have laid him down. Scott did get to shake Reagan’s hand in the reception line.
The second event occurred while in line. When my mother got to the President, she looked up at him and said, “You have a familiar face. Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” My mother had the start of dementia. I don’t recall what Reagan said, but true to form, he played it cool.
On the flight back to Arizona, the pilot announced that there were dignitaries on the plane. I was surprised that he was referring to our family. Sandra, of course, had remained in D.C. The entire plane applauded. What surprised me even more was that my father, who was such a strong personality, turned bright red when this happened and couldn’t even speak. Sandra may have gotten her strength from him, but I think that she inherited her style and grace from my mother.
Over the years, I visited Sandra and John many times in D.C. Each experience was special, a chance to step into Sandra’s world, which to me always remained other-worldly. As I’ve said many times, one of my best jobs in life has been being Sandra Day O’Connor’s brother.
If you’re interested in more stories about her years on the Court—stories that she shared with me—tune in to The Cowboy Up Podcast, Episode 8 “The Making of a Supreme Court Justice” and Episode 9 “The Lady Who Led the Way.”
And remember to tune into PBS on Monday night, with or without popcorn.