Politics

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Has Passed Away

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.


Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve as a justice on the United States Supreme Court, has passed away at the age of 93.

She passed away on Friday in Phoenix, Arizona, “of complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness,” according to a statement from the Supreme Court.

Reagan nominated O’Connor to the court in 1981; she remained there for almost 25 years, retiring in 2006.

O’Connor, a native of the American Southwest, broke new ground as the first female justice in the United States, according to a statement issued by the court by Chief Justice John Roberts. She tackled that challenge with unwavering resolve, undeniable skill, and captivating honesty.

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female justice in our country, blazed a historic trail, according to a court statement by Roberts. She met that challenge with “undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor.”

“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,” Roberts said. “And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot.”

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O’Connor wrote a letter in 2018 disclosing her diagnosis of early-stage dementia, likely Alzheimer’s disease.

“While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings of my life,” she wrote.

“Truly a person for all seasons, possessing those unique qualities of temperament, fairness, intellectual capacity, and devotion to the public good which have characterized the 101 brethren who have preceded her.” President Ronald Reagan said of O’Connor when he nominated her for the bench in 1981.

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As a young girl, O’Connor learned to brand cattle, operate tractors, and shoot rifles on the Arizona Lazy B Ranch, where she became famous for her independence and reliance on herself.

“She has shown time and time again that she is a true cowgirl,” the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said of O’Connor in a tribute in 2015.

To care for her husband, who was sick with Alzheimer’s disease, O’Connor resigned from her position on the court in 2006. Later, President George W. Bush nominated Justice Samuel Alito to succeed her.

After finishing her undergraduate degree at Stanford, she attended Stanford Law School, where she briefly dated Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who had been a classmate of hers. John O’Connor, another classmate, would be her husband, CNN noted.

Many law firms rejected her after she graduated solely on the basis of her gender. She and her husband eventually went into business for themselves. She went on to become the first female senator from Arizona to serve as majority leader.

Prior to her 1979 appointment to the Arizona Court of Appeals, she served as a judge in Maricopa County’s superior court.

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“We all bring with us to the court or to any task we undertake our own lifetime of experiences and background,” O’Connor said in a 2003 CNN interview. “My perceptions might be different than some of my colleagues’ but at the end of the day we all ought to be able to agree on some sensible solution to the problem,” she said.

Former O’Connor clerk James Forman argued that her gender was not a factor in her jurisprudence.

“I don’t think there’s any decision you can say, ‘she reached this result because she’s a woman,’” Forman said.

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