Remembering Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Wednesday, January 3, 2024
SCC Alumna Dr. Ramona Ortega-Liston Graduated 1975 | Political Science A.A.

SCC Alumna Dr. Ramona Ortega-Liston
Graduated 1975 | Political Science A.A.

In 1975, as a student at Scottsdale Community College (SCC), Ramona Ortega-Liston became the first SCC intern in Sandra Day O’Connor’s Arizona State Senate office. During weekly trips to her office, Ramona's responsibilities included opening and sorting letters from the senator’s constituents and shadowing Senator O’Connor in the state legislature. She learned behind-the-scenes lessons about the workings of state government. For Ramona, it was a thrill of a lifetime getting to know the Senate Majority Leader, Sandra Day O’Connor. Ramona never dreamed that she would maintain a nearly 50-year correspondence with her, including autographed copies of her books and personal letters that covered decades of Sandra Day O’Connor’s life—and hers.

As a graduate student at Harvard University, Ramona exchanged letters with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, after President Reagan nominated her to the United States Supreme Court. Ramona congratulated her on the appointment. Justice O’Connor responded with a letter congratulating Ramona on being admitted to Harvard. Later, when the Justice was diagnosed with cancer, Ramona sent her a box of cookies from “Cookies from Home,” a small business in Tempe, Arizona. Justice O’Connor responded with a thank you note complimenting Ramona on her selection of the red and white checkered miniature tablecloth in which the cookies were wrapped. It reminded her of her rural upbringing.

Many years later, after completing her doctorate at ASU in public administration, Justice O’Connor invited Ramona to the Supreme Court for a visit. She honored a small-town Iowa girl, with a 45-minute audience! Her staff took pictures of the two of them in her chambers. After their “talk,” Justice O’Connor asked a member of her staff to show Ramona what she called “the highest court in the land.” Dumbfounded, Ramona hesitatingly asked, “But Justice O’Connor, isn’t this the highest court in the land?” The Justice smiled and with a knowing wink, Ramona was whisked away to a basketball court at the top of the United States Supreme Court (USSC). How many people know there is a basketball at the top of the Supreme Court? Ramona certainly did not. The staff member handed Ramona a basketball, and because she was raised with four brothers, she knew how to handle a basketball and a football and could put an adversary in a wrestling hammer-lock. Ramona kicked off her shoes and, at 5 feet 2 inches tall, dribbled down the court and made a perfect shot—pictures taken by Justice O’Connor’s staff provide proof. The basketball has the initials USSC emblazoned on it in bold black letters.

Not long after that experience, Ramona was hired as a professor at the University of Akron. Again, she received an invitation to the Supreme Court. This time, Dr. Ramona Ortega-Liston took her graduate students with her. Her unstoppable advocacy gave these students a once-in-a-lifetime experience of meeting the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Dr. Ramona Ortega-Liston’s interest in government and politics began as a Scottsdale Community College student aide with Sandra Day O’Connor in 1975. She proudly attributes her storied career to her starting at SCC as a college student and her internship opportunity through the “Projects in Community Service” program. Ramona is the recipient of three presidential appointments and a published author.