Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

(Arizona Mirror) A bipartisan resolution proposed by Arizona lawmakers would see the state replacing the statue of a Jesuit explorer who helped Europeans settle in Arizona that’s currently on display in Statuary Hall with one of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Arizona jurist who was the first woman to serve on the high court.

But O’Connor’s son told the Arizona Mirror that the family wasn’t consulted on this new initiative and prefers a project approved in April 2022 that would place a permanent statue of O’Connor in the U.S. Capitol.

“I think it makes the state look pretty uninformed to propose that when there is already a statute being proposed,” Scott O’Connor said.

In April 2022, a bipartisan bill was signed by President Joe Biden to create statues honoring both O’Connor and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The measure includes an appropriation of $500,000 to create the statue, which will reside in the U.S. Capitol.

But Rep. Matt Gress, the Phoenix Republican sponsoring the state legislature’s statue proposal, said that he consulted with O’Connor’s sons on the resolution, as well as with the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute. He said there was a lot of “energy and enthusiasm” to place a statue in Statuary Hall.

Scott O’Connor said he was “uncomfortable” with Gress saying that the full family supported the resolution, adding he and one of his other brothers would rather see the federal project “come to fruition” before any other statues are considered.

“What’s the hurry?” Scott O’Connor said Monday in a phone interview following a press conference announcing the plan. “Why do a redundant one in Statuary Hall?”

Scott O’Connor said he suggested Gress instead sponsor legislation to create robust civics education in Arizona schools, something the late Justice was an advocate for and pioneered, rather than another statue. He said that his mother would have likely wanted to see the federal process play out, as an artist has still not been chosen for that project.

“I get the sense that maybe our input isn’t deemed all that essential to that process,” Scott said, adding that the family is still trying to reach a decision on their support of the resolution.

But Gress said there was room for both statue projects.

“This is from the state’s perspective,” Gress said when asked why the state needs to pursue its own statue for D.C.

He said that placing a statue in Statuary Hall will be how the state itself honors the late justice.

“The Statuary Hall is a place where each state gets to send two heroes of their state that can represent us on a national stage and it is one of the more special rooms in the U.S. Capitol because it is a reflection of the states,” Gress told the Mirror.

Currently, Arizona has a statue of Father Eusebio Kino and former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater in Statuary Hall.

Gress’ legislation, House Joint Resolution 2002, urges members of Congress to authorize sending a statue of O’Connor to be placed in Statuary Hall inside the U.S. Capitol building. To do so, the statue of Kino, a 17th Century Jesuit missionary and explorer who journeyed to southern Arizona to work with the Pimas, would be sent back to Arizona to be displayed at the state Capitol.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers gathered at the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse on Monday to speak about the resolution and share memories of the former justice, who, before becoming the first woman to become a Supreme Court justice was the first woman to serve as a legislative majority leader.

“A shining reflection for all considering the American Dream,” Republican U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani said of O’Connor. Ciscomani is also sponsoring bipartisan legislation to rename a post office in Greenlee County, where she resided, after O’Connor.

When asked about the post office project, Scott O’Connor said it was the first he had heard of it.

Gress’ resolution would use donate funds for the creation of the O’Connor statue. He said during Monday’s press conference that it could take “a few years” in order for the statue to be completed and sent to Statuary Hall.

Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, one of the cosponsors of the legislation, was directly involved the last time Arizona changed which statues are on display in Statuary Hall. He was the secretary of state in 2014 and was present when the statue of mining magnate John Campbell Greenway was replaced with one of Goldwater.

Democratic lawmakers voiced their support for the resolution at Monday’s press conference, as well, with Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, reminiscing on how O’Connor used to host lawmakers to have discussions and learn to speak cordially with one another.

“That is a very important part of legislating,” Alston said, adding that the current legislature could use that same energy today.

Gress said he brought the idea for the resolution to the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute, which was “enthusiastic” about the idea and communicated with O’Connor’s family about the planned statue.

“She was such an inspiration to women, to law in particular, but in the workplace in general,” Scott O’Connor told the Mirror.

Federal law says that, in order for a change of statue at Statuary Hall, state lawmakers must make a resolution that must be signed by the governor requesting the Library of Congress allow for the swap. Gress said he doesn’t anticipate any opposition.

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