Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor – who refers to herself nowadays as an “unemployed cowgirl” – paid a visit to the Late Show with David Letterman last night to promote her latest children’s book. And she used the opportunity to share some of her memories about the behind-the-scenes rituals of the Supreme Court.
She spoke of the customary handshakes between each and every one of the justices before taking the bench for oral arguments.
“That’s a fabulous custom because it’s hard to shake hands and then be hostile,” O’Connor explained. “I mean, it’s much harder, anyway. It’s good.”
She said the first handshake with one of her colleagues was particularly memorable.
“My first day when I did that, one of the members of the Court was Byron White, Justice White, and he’s the only justice to have been an NFL football star.” O’Connor said. “And I put my hand out and he took it, and I thought I was going to die on the spot. Just die! It was like I had put my hand in a vice!”
As the audience laughed, the justice continued: “And I had a ring on this finger,” she said, motioning to the ring finger of her right hand, “and he just kept that pressure on. And tears squirted out of my eyes! I couldn’t help it!
“And it was very embarrassing – my first day on the court and there I am in tears!” she said.
Realizing that the handshake would be a daily ritual, O’Connor said she fashioned a solution.
“I grabbed his thumb,” she said as Letterman and audience laughed. “I could never give him my hand again.”