Sandra Day O'Connor's Beef Jerky Was A Supreme Court Tradition

Sandra Day O'Connor leaves a significant legacy following the news of her death on December 1 at the age of 93. Appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, she became the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court — to date, five more women have followed in her stead. While she will be remembered for the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute, which "advocates civic duty and advancing civil discourse, civic engagement[,] and civics education," her fellow justices also recall her annual tradition of gifting family-made beef jerky.

During the Christmas season, Justice O'Connor would send her fellow justices packages of jerky from her family's Arizona-based cattle ranch, the Lazy B. The spicy jerky recipe featured lean beef cuts (occasionally venison), pepper, soy sauce, and either crushed pepper or cayenne. Justice O'Connor's brother, Alan Day, also created a sauce for the jerky, which included apricot syrup and habanero peppers, though it's unclear if this sauce was included in the gifts to the Supreme Court justices. The jerky certainly became a fondly remembered tradition, and was even featured in the 2017 book, "Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes" by Clare Cushman.

A simple way to connect

The task of implementing laws and justice is often mired in political disagreement and discord, but connecting over food remains a longstanding tradition among the justices of the Supreme Court. Clare Cushman's book recounts how, in the early days of the United States during the 1800s, justices lived together in a boarding house and shared meals. This tradition continues today with dinners for new and retiring justices, as well as birthday toasts.

Sandra Day O'Connor played a key role in reinstating the tradition of the justices eating lunch together regularly, and her gifting of jerky was a simple way to foster unity among her colleagues. She wasn't alone in this approach, either. Cushman's book includes a photo of Justice Steven Breyer sharing a 28-pound salmon he caught in Alaska with his fellow judges.

Justice O'Connor's jerky serves as a reminder that not all Supreme Court traditions are centered on law and order. It underscores that, regardless of one's prestigious position, kindness, fellowship, and humanity reign, well ... supreme.