Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said Monday a fight is inevitable over whoever becomes President Barack Obama's choice to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens.
O'Connor chatted with an audience of about 300 law students, faculty and community at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. She is spending two days on the campus sharing her experiences with students.
She spoke with fondness of Stevens as "a remarkable man."
"He's still so active physically and mentally," O'Connor said. "I hope we don't end up at odds in the selection of a new justice. I don't know how that can be avoided."
O'Connor retired from the court in 2006. She says she accepted the nomination in 1981 from President Ronald Reagan only after the insistence of her late husband. She says it was an honor to be the first woman to sit on the high court, but worried that if she messed up she could be the last.
Two more women have since joined the nine-member court, and she said she didn't know who Obama's choice might be "but it wouldn't be all bad if we had more than two" women.
The administration has confirmed several potential nominees to The Associated Press, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
Speculation is that the president will pick a nominee without judicial experience to bring a different prospective to the Supreme Court.
O'Connor said there is precedent for a new justice to not have previous experience on the bench, noting that former Justice William Renquist was a "fair and evenhanded chief justice" though he never spent a day prior hearing cases.
She answered questions from Judge Deanell Reece Tacha, who sits on the 10 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, ranging from her background in Arizona to graduating from Stanford law school in 1952 only to learn that no firm was hiring women.
O'Connor landed as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, Calif., working for free and sharing a room with the secretary.
She was serving on the Arizona Court of Appeals when she was invited to Washington to meet with Reagan about the opening on the court. O'Connor said she left after a day of interviews glad that it was over and figuring she didn't have to worry about being invited back.
"I didn't want him to ask me. I did not seek that job. I didn't know how I would do that job," O'Connor said. "I did it with some concern."
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