Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the court, has died at 93 years old after complications related to Alzheimer’s. Appointed to the court in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, O’Connor retired in 2006 after she terminated nearly 200 years of an all-male Supreme Court and served for nearly a quarter of a century.
A Texas native, O’Connor spent her girlhood riding horses on her parents’ 250-square-mile cattle ranch on the Arizona-New Mexico border. After enrolling in college at 16, O’Connor was one of five women to attend Stanford Law School at the time and graduated third in her class in 1952.
After graduating, she worked for the San Mateo County attorney until she was elected to the State Senate in 1969. She became the Senate majority leader before being appointed as a state trial judge and appellate court judge in 1979, which she was serving when Reagan elected her.
“Reagan was not a word parser, and he felt that he had made a moral commitment to appoint a qualified woman to the Supreme Court, that it was long overdue… and that’s what our marching orders were,” said Kenneth Starr, the then-assistant to Attorney General William French Smith.
While serving in the high court, O’Connor made many meaningful contributions to the betterment of the United States, such as defending women’s bodily autonomy in decisions reaffirming Roe v. Wade. Her first vote on abortion came in the 1983 case, Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, in which the majority struck down a municipal ordinance that restricted women’s access to abortion, arguing that the restrictions breached a woman’s right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action.
Another noteworthy contribution is O’Connor’s stance in the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick case, in which she rejected a Georgia law that criminalized same-sex sodomy. In O’Connor’s words, making sodomy a crime for same-sex but not opposite-sex couples “makes homosexuals unequal in the eyes of the law” and “brands all homosexuals as criminals.”
Retired at 75 to care for her husband and hoping to pass on a female legacy in the high court, O’Connor remarked that her successor to the US Supreme Court, Judge Samuel Alito, is “Good in every way, except he’s not a woman.”
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was memorialized in a funeral service held at the National Cathedral on December 19th. President Biden, current court members, Chief Justice John Roberts, her son Jay O’Connor, and many influential politicians were in attendance.
“Gracious and wise, civil and principled, Sandra Day O’Connor, daughter of the American West, was a pioneer in her own right, breaking down the barriers in legal and political worlds and in the nation’s consciousness,” said President Biden in remarks during the service honoring O’Connor and the barriers she crossed for women across the country.
Sophomore Anna Chiaradonna is the Editor-In-Chief of The College Reporter. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.