He pro­posed, she said no; they re­united in court

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - From Page One - By Michael Brice-Sad­dler The Wash­ing­ton Post

Decades be­fore they would serve to­gether on the Supreme Court, Wil­liam Rehn­quist and San­dra Day O’Con­nor were en­gaged in a dif­fer­ent type of courtship.

The two grew close while at­tend­ing Stan­ford Law School — they reg­u­larly shared notes and even­tu­ally be­came a cou­ple. Al­though San­dra Day, as she was known then, even­tu­ally broke up with Rehn­quist and mar­ried a dif­fer­ent Stan­ford Law class­mate, John O’Con­nor, an au­thor re­cently re­vealed to NPR that she first turned down a mar­riage pro­posal from Rehn­quist, the fu­ture chief jus­tice, in the early 1950s.

Rehn­quist grad­u­ated a semester early and went to Wash­ing­ton for a Supreme Court clerk­ship. In a let­ter to Day, who had al­ready be­gun dat­ing John O’Con­nor, Rehn­quist said he wanted to see her and dis­cuss “im­por­tant things,” au­thor Evan Thomas told NPR on Wed­nes­day.

Rehn­quist later wrote: “To be spe­cific, Sandy, will you marry me this sum­mer?”

Thomas dis­cov­ered the let­ters while con­duct­ing re­search for his up­com­ing book, “First,” a bi­og­ra­phy of O’Con­nor, who was nom­i­nated by Ron­ald Rea­gan to the na­tion’s high­est court in 1981.

O’Con­nor’s son, Jay, told NPR that news of the pro­posal was a sur­prise to his fam­ily mem­bers, though they’d pre­vi­ously known that his mother had dated Rehn­quist.

“Dat­ing was pretty in­no­cent in the ’50s,” Jay O’Con- nor told NPR. He added that “mul­ti­ple men pro­posed to my mom when she was in col­lege and law school, and ul­ti­mately my dad was the one who was the real deal.”

She would in­stead end up mar­ry­ing John O’Con­nor, be­com­ing San­dra Day O’Con­nor in 1952. While her ro­mance with Rehn­quist never flour­ished, they re­mained close friends un­til he died in 2005; they even be­came neigh­bors at one point.

“It was just an amaz­ing ac­ci­dent of his­tory that ... my mom and her friend and law school class­mate ended up on the Supreme Court to­gether,” her son told NPR. “Not only did they have a won­der­ful work­ing re­la­tion­ship for over 25 years on the court, they had a won­der­ful friend­ship their en­tire life.”

Last month, San­dra Day O’Con­nor an­nounced that she was with­draw­ing from pub­lic life af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with de­men­tia.



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