We were surprised and pleased when we saw a news story out of Boise, Idaho the other day about Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court and a former Junior League of Phoenix member and past president.

Since retiring in 2006 after 25 years on the Court, Justice O’Connor has often made her opinion known on a range of issues, including whether some political attacks on the independence of the courts pose a direct threat to the constitutional freedoms of Americans. But in Boise, Justice O’Connor made some comments on a topic of interest to Junior Leaguers everywhere – the need for an informed citizenry capable of creating and engaging in civic leadership.

Excerpts from those comments, as reported by the Idaho Statesman after her keynote address at the “Transforming America: Women and Leadership in the 21st Century” conference, put on by the Andrus Center for Public Policy, follow:

  • Two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court justice.
  • Only about one-third can name the three branches of government.
  • Fewer than one-fifth of high school seniors can explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.
  • Less than one-third of eighth-graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence.

“The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance,” Justice O’Connor said. “We have to ensure that our citizens are well informed and prepared to face tough challenges,” she said. “If there is a single child not learning about civics or not being exposed to what they must do as citizens, then all our lives are poorer for that.”

To combat the decline in civic education, Justice O’Connor founded a website called icivics.org that provides lesson plans for teachers and activities for their students to make learning about government and citizenship less boring.

As we said in an earlier item on the impact of Justice O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1981 on perceptions of women as civic leaders, she has certainly had an interesting life. It’s nice to know that, even at the age of 83, this amazing woman continues to find ways to inspire others to pursue public service. Thanks, Sandra Day O’Connor!