Obituary /

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Dies

The Arizona Republican was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1991 by President Ronald Reagan

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Dies

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, has died at the age of 93.

A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed an historic trail as our Nation’s first female Justice. She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor,” said Chief Justice John Roberts in a press release on Dec. 1. “We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education. And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot.”

Born on March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas to cattle ranchers, O’Connor graduated high school at the age of 16. She attended Stanford University and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics before entering Stanford Law School. In 1952, she married fellow Standford Law student John Jay O’Connor, whom she had met the year before while editing for the Stanford Law Review.

Mr. O’Connor was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1954 and posted in Germany as part of the Judge Advocate General's Corps.

“Rather than wait until the Army could ship her overseas, his wife bought her own ticket to Europe,” noted Stanford Magazine in 2010. “He showed equal devotion to their marriage and her work; when Sandra Day O'Connor was uncertain about accepting President Ronald Reagan's offer to make her the first female Supreme Court justice, her husband said, ‘You have to do it. It'll be fine.’”

After moving to Arizona in 1957, the couple had three sons – Scott, Brian, and Jay. 

O’Connor developed her political and judicial profile over the course of the next two decades. She became the Assistant Attorney General of Arizona in 1957 and was appointed to the state Senate in 1965 where she went on to serve as the majority leader in 1972.

Two years later, the Republican was elected as a judge to the Maricopa County Superior Court. She was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979. 

O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court on Aug. 19, 1981, by President Ronald Reagan, who called her "truly a person for all seasons, possessing those unique qualities of temperament, fairness, intellectual capacity, and devotion to the public good.” She was confirmed by the Senate on Sept. 21, 1981, following a 99-0 vote at the age of 51.

Among her most impactful decisions was her 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v Casey, which reaffirmed women's right to abortion,” reports the BBC. "Her replacement, Justice Alito, would go on to author the majority decision that overturned that right in 2022. Justice O'Connor was also the deciding vote in the Bush v Gore case in 2000.”

After her husband’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and subsequent decline, O’Connor elected to retire from the court in 2005. Mr. O’Connor died in 2009.

She “found other ways to make a mark off the court” including founding “the group iCivics, which promotes civic education in schools through free, educational online games” in 2009. O’Connor called the project “the most important work [she’d] ever done.” By 2017, the group’s 19 games had been played by 5 million students, reports CNBC.

O’Connor fully retired from public life in October of 2018, over two decades after leaving the court.

*For corrections please email [email protected]*