Quietly, O'Connor Fills In on Appellate Courts

By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2009 8:00 AM CDT
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at a news conference Wednesday, April 29, 2009, in Austin, Texas.   (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
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(Newser) – Three years after retiring from the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor is still on the bench—in federal appellate courts across the country, where the high court's first woman justice has quietly been filling in as a substitute judge. O'Connor has heard nearly 80 cases and written more than a dozen opinions at the lower level, often without telling her former Supreme Court colleagues. "It's nice to keep your hand in a bit," she tells the Wall Street Journal.

Unlike the picky Supreme Court, appellate courts must hear almost every case that bubbles up through the system—her most recent decision concerned a wolf whose owners had an inaccurate dog license. And while on the top bench she had wide discretion, at the appellate level she's bound by Supreme Court precedent. "I now have to apply some of those holdings with which I didn't agree," she says. "It hasn't caused me to change my mind." (Read more Sandra Day O'Connor stories.)