In Memoriam Sandra Day O’Connor

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Letters Blogatory remembers Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the US Supreme Court. She will be remembered for her opinions in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Grutter v. Bollinger, and other important constitutional decisions. Some of these, including the two decisions I mentioned, have not stood the test of time, at least as things seem now. But we Letters Blogatory readers will remember her best for her opinion in Volkswagenverk AG v. Schlunk, the leading case on the Hague Service Convention in the US, and one of the leading cases around the world. The case is notable for its conclusion that the Convention is exclusive, or as the Court said, “mandatory.” It was and remains a big step for an American judge to say that our usual civil procedure must sometimes give way in cross-border cases. But the case was careful also to conclude that the Convention is (in the HCCH’s preferred nomenclature) non-mandatory. That is, the Convention itself does not require plaintiffs to make service using its methods when US law does not require a judicial document to be transmitted abroad for service. Both points are now well-established internationally.

Justice O’Connor will of course also be remembered for opening the door to women serving on the high court, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Ketanji Brown Jackson and several justices in between. It’s remarkable that I can remember the appointment of the first woman to serve, and that the court now has four women serving.

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