Remembering the Life of Sandra Day O’Connor 

Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice in 1981.

If you examine the US Supreme Court today, you will find that four of the nine justices are women. It wasn’t always that way. Before 1981, no women had been on the US Supreme Court. Then, Sandra Day O’Connor changed all of that. Let’s take a look at her remarkable life.  

Justice O’Connor grew up on a cattle ranch on the border between New Mexico and Arizona. She attended Stanford Law School and graduated close to the top of her class. Still, she had trouble finding work as a lawyer because law firms at the time did not want to hire women. She would not give up though. For her first job, she worked for a county attorney for free. When her children were born, she took a five-year break from the law. In addition to raising her children, she volunteered politically. She was appointed as a state senator in Arizona. 

Before he was elected, President Ronald Reagan promised to appoint the first female Supreme Court Justice. The US Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation. It has the last word on whether a law obeys the constitution or not. There are nine US Supreme Court Justices. The president appoints a US Supreme Court Justice. The US Senate confirms or denies the justice. When President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor, the Senate voted unanimously, 99-0, to confirm her. 

As a justice, O’Connor was sometimes called “the most powerful woman in the country.” She was a moderate. This means she sometimes agreed with conservative justices. She sometimes agreed with liberal justices. She often had the tie-breaking vote in many close decisions. This included many key cases about racial equality. She also cast the deciding vote on a case that decided the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. She retired from the court in 2006, after serving for 25 years. She devoted her retirement to promoting the teaching of civics education. 

O’Connor’s appointment opened more opportunities for women. More women went to law school. More women became lawyers. More women became judges across the country. Since O’Connor, five more women have been appointed as Supreme Court Justices.  

On Friday, December 1, 2023 Sandra Day O’Connor passed away. She was 93 years old. She will always be part of history as the first female Supreme Court Justice. 

What Do You Think? Justice O’Connorovercame many obstacles in life. What obstacles do you face in life? How can you overcome them? 

Photo Credit: Dane Penland, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States