Memorial for

Sandra Day O'Connor

The Legacy of Sandra Day O’Connor, the First Female Supreme Court Justice

Mar 26, 1930 - Dec 1, 2023
Phoenix, Arizona

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and a trailblazer for women’s rights, died on December 1, 2023, at the age of 93. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018 and had retired from public life.

O’Connor was born on March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas, and grew up on a ranch in Arizona. She graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and law. She married John Jay O’Connor, a fellow law student, in 1952. They had three sons.

O’Connor faced discrimination as a female lawyer in the 1950s and 1960s and had to start her own practice after being rejected by law firms. She entered politics in 1969 and was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the Arizona Senate. She became the first woman to serve as the majority leader of a state senate in 1973. 

She was elected to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to the Supreme Court, fulfilling his campaign promise to appoint a woman to the highest court in the land. She was confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and took her oath of office on September 25, 1981.

O’Connor was a moderate conservative who often cast the deciding vote in closely divided cases. She was known for her pragmatism, respect for precedent, and meticulous research. She wrote influential opinions on various issues, including abortion, affirmative action, federalism, and religious freedom. She also championed judicial independence and civics education.

O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court on January 31, 2006, after 24 years of service. She was succeeded by Samuel Alito. She remained active in public life, serving as the chancellor of the College of William and Mary, writing books, and launching online civics programs. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama in 2009.

O’Connor is survived by her three sons, Scott, Brian, and Jay, and their families. Her husband, John, died in 2009. She will be remembered as a pioneer, a leader, and a role model for generations of Americans.