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So where did Justice Sandra Day O’Connor go after announcing her retirement? Not to Disneyland. Try Istanbul instead. But her trip to Turkey was for work, not relaxation. Underscoring her longstanding interest in worldwide rule-of-law issues, O’Connor attended the annual conference of CEELI — the American Bar Association project that stands for Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative. Since 1990, CEELI, under O’Connor’s active leadership, has been assisting nations in that region to build and improve legal systems as the Soviet Union crumbled. “She’s been our spiritual leader all along, and it meant so much to have her there,” says R. William Ide III, the chairman of CEELI’s executive board, who just returned from Turkey on July 14. Ide, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge, is a former president of the ABA. Ide says O’Connor attended CEELI meetings in Istanbul “from dawn to dusk” from July 10 to 13 as one of 250 lawyers and judges from 26 countries. O’Connor was accompanied by her sister, Ann Day, a member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors in Arizona. Ide says he saw no sign that O’Connor was slowing down in anticipation of retiring. “Every day she wakes up and says, ‘What can we get done today and tomorrow?’ There was no breaking stride on her part,” says Ide. “I saw as much energy if not more” from O’Connor. She also pledged to continue working on global legal issues after she retires, he says. One example: O’Connor has agreed to be the keynote speaker for a worldwide symposium on the rule of law in Washington, D.C., this fall. One of the most meaningful moments of the meeting, Ide says, came when O’Connor gave an award to Viktor Kryvenko, the justice of the Ukrainian Supreme Court who played a pivotal role after that country’s fraudulent elections last year. “It was one Supreme Court justice to another,” Ide says. Although O’Connor’s interest in international legal organizations is long-standing, it is a lesser-known part of her legacy. She first caught the attention of the late Chief Justice Warren Burger at a judicial conference in England in the late 1970s, and Burger lobbied for her appointment with President Reagan. The papers of the late justices Thurgood Marshall and Harry Blackmun are full of invitations from O’Connor to meet with one visiting foreign jurist or another. At a recent Legal Times panel on the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Paul Clement described O’Connor as the Court’s diplomat. “Laws are organic, and they benefit from cross-pollination,” O’Connor wrote in her 2003 book, “The Majesty of the Law.” “We should keep our eyes open for innovations in foreign jurisdictions.” In her book she also spoke of the importance of establishing independent judiciaries in new democracies. “Even countries that do not employ the American separation-of-powers model,” she wrote, “must take steps to safeguard the independence of the judiciary.” Mark Ellis, CEELI’s founding director and now executive director of the International Bar Association in London, says O’Connor was passionate about CEELI from its inception. “She saw how unique this period would be,” he says, referring to the demise of the Soviet Union, when new governments would be looking for help to build their legal infrastructure. “But as the euphoria transformed into a great deal of hard work, a number of people lost interest. She never did.” In the recent hot debate over the use of international law in Supreme Court decision-making, O’Connor came down on the side of looking at foreign law and court decisions as a relevant, but not decisive, consideration. “I really think this is much ado about nothing,” she said during a televised discussion on April 21 with colleagues Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. “It doesn’t hurt to be aware of what other countries have done.”

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