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Sandra Said No: The Failed SCOTUS Marriage Proposal

By George Khoury, Esq. on October 31, 2018 3:59 PM

A failed marriage proposal from William Rehnquist to Sandra Day O'Connor in 1952 is making headlines as no one knew about it until very recently.

In a recently announced biography (set to publish next year) about Justice O'Connor, titled First, the details of the pre-High Court relationship are discussed, among many other details of Justice O'Connor's life. However, the 1952 letter from Rehnquist to O'Connor proposing marriage was not known about until the author of the recent biography started digging through O'Connor's personal and archived papers.

The Justices Dated

So the story goes, the justices were "study buddies" and dated while in law school together at Stanford. And it was one of those open secrets that many people knew about, but didn't really talk about, on the High Court.

However, before the proposal happened, the two broke up, but remained study buddies and close friends. Rehnquist graduated early and moved to D.C. to clerk for a Supreme Court Justice. But the two kept in touch, writing letters back and forth. Curiously, it took O'Connor several months to formally reject Rehnquist's proposal, and all the while, she was dating her soon-to-be husband. 

While O'Connor's son believes it was mere chance that O'Connor and Rehnquist both ended up on the High Court, it's possible that Rehnquist suggested her as a nominee to then president Reagan.

Amazingly, O'Connor kept the letter, and it will be published in the biography.

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