O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court presented The Nation with something of a dilemma: how to criticize Reagan’s nominee as the lightly qualified beneficiary of affirmative-action policies while supporting such policies in general? The editors focused on the hypocrisy of Reagan’s choice, in an editorial, “Courting Women” (July 25, 1981):
Politics is such a boisterous business that some of its most telling ironies can go unnoticed. Consider President Reagan’s nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court. In the general satisfaction—which we share—over the selection of a woman, no one seems to have noticed that in choosing Judge O’Connor, President Reagan has overridden some fundamental conservative principles and a basic policy of his Administration: For the highest court in the land he has picked a person, barely qualified for the post, almost entirely because of her sex and not on the basis of individual merit….
Nevertheless, Judge O’Connor could become a fine Justice. Like so many other beneficiaries of affirmative action, she may make a great deal out of the unexpected opportunity. And the absence of a woman from the Supreme Court is disgraceful. But the next time affirmative action comes under attack, its critics should ponder well the example set by the nation’s number-one champion of “individual merit.”