In Depth


Serving O’Connor inspired former law clerk

Ruth McGregor rose to lead AZ Supreme Court
O Connor McGregor.jpg
Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 15:03:35-04

PHOENIX, Ariz.(KGUN) — For a lawyer, it can be a front seat to history to be able to law clerk for a Supreme Court Justice---and it’s a double dose of history to clerk for the first woman to serve on the high court. KGUN9 talked with a lawyer, inspired to her own distinguished career as a judge after working with Sandra Day O’Connor.

As one of four law clerks for Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth McGregor couldn’t take too much time to savor the history. The clerks---and the new Justice had plenty of work to do.

“And we were, I think, just so impressed by how well Justice O'Connor handled that because she was just as aware. I mean, she scarcely could not have known what an important change this was to the Supreme Court. And yet, she just handled things so well. And with such calmness and such grace, that it really was quite an impressive thing to watch.”

That calmness and grace did face some tests from Justice O’Connor’s sudden celebrity status. McGregor says autograph hunters could turn up anywhere.

“One of my favorite stories is we were grocery shopping in Georgetown one night, after we left the court. And a woman came up and asked for her autograph. And she said, Of course yes, of course. What do you want me to write on? The woman didn't have anything. So she grabbed a melon from the produce. So Justice O’Connor signed her melon. I have no idea what happened to it after that.”

But Justice O’Conner made a point by working to make her unusual status routine.

“Could she act in such a way that this became a normal part of our life, so that it wasn't just the most unusual thing in the world, to see a woman operating at that level and in that position, and her ability to do that, I think, did so much for women in the law and women generally, because she showed that you could do this in a way that you just did your job.”

Ruth McGregor was an unusual law clerk because she was not fresh out of law school. She’d been a practicing lawyer at a large firm for about seven years when she had an opportunity to clerk for Justice O’Connor.

She says working at the Supreme Court, seeing Sandra Day O’Connor think through tough, important cases inspired her to work towards becoming a judge. She became Justice Ruth McGregor of the Arizona Supreme Court and later became the Chief Justice there.

And on that court she remembered what Sandra Day O’Connor taught her about bringing a neutral analysis to deciding the law.

“That's exactly the way she worked through it. And in fact, when I became a judge, I followed very much the same procedures as we had when I was a law clerk to Justice O'Connor.”