The political rancor that has enveloped Congress would lessen if members of opposing parties spent more time socializing together, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said Sunday.
As majority leader of the state Senate, O'Connor said she would regularly have Republican and Democratic lawmakers over for dinner to hash out legislative compromises. Friendships developed over chalupas - and across party lines.
O'Connor, an Arizona native, spoke about her path from young lawyer to the first woman on the nation's highest court. Roughly 100 people gathered for the event Sunday at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe.
Her appearance was part of an effort to raise funds to move the adobe brick home she and her husband built and lived in for 24 years to be preserved at a site in Papago Park. Once restored, it will become the O'Connor House and Center for Civic Discourse.
The key to increasing civic discourse in Washington, D.C., is changing Congress' schedule, O'Connor said.
Now, most lawmakers fly to their home district every weekend and spend only Tuesday through Thursday at the Capitol. If the elected Republicans and Democrats would spend more weekend time socializing with each other, they would spend less time demonizing each other, O'Connor said.
"I think we'd find it would reduce partisanship," she said.
O'Connor was considered a swing vote during much of her quarter-century on the Supreme Court. She is widely credited with keeping the court from veering too far from center politically.
Despite graduating third in her class from Stanford University's law school in 1952, O'Connor said her gender made it nearly impossible to find work. As her colleagues went to work at powerful law firms, she struggled to get interviews. When she finally landed one with a Los Angeles firm, it made no difference.
"Ms. Day, we've never hired a woman lawyer and I can't see a time when we would," O'Connor said the law partner told her. "Our clients wouldn't stand for it."
The retired justice and her eldest son, Scott, also told stories about living in their adobe home.
Scott said some of his first memories are of sliding across its shiny, concrete-slab floor in socks.
Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, who moderated the discussion, said his house has the same kind of concrete floor, but that he has struggled to make it shine. What was her secret? Hallman asked.
"Three boys in socks," O'Connor responded. "And sometimes, their rear ends."