Friday, December 1, 2023
Diagnosed with dementia in 2018, she withdrew from public life, having served on the bench for 24 years. O'Connor was pivotal in landmark decisions and known for her diverse accomplishments, including being a judge, Arizona legislator, cancer survivor, and trailblazer for women, she received the nation's highest civilian honor from President Barack Obama.
O'Connor faced significant challenges in her early job search due to gender discrimination, with 40 law firms rejecting her for being a woman. Despite the setbacks, she persisted and accepted a legal secretary position. Opting for the public sector, she served as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, California, and later worked as a civilian attorney in Germany. Returning to the U.S., she practiced law in Arizona, eventually becoming assistant attorney general in 1965. O'Connor entered politics, serving three terms in the Arizona Senate and making history as the first female majority leader in the United States in 1973.
Her perseverance led to her historic appointment to the Supreme Court in 1981, becoming the first woman on the Court. Despite facing early gender-based challenges, she felt a special responsibility to perform well and pave the way for future female appointments. O'Connor, a moderate conservative and often labeled a swing voter who, a term she rejected, emphasized her commitment to legal principles in decision-making. Her impact on the Supreme Court extended beyond her rulings, as she prompted the establishment of the first women's restroom near the courtroom, highlighting the Court's lack of female accommodations.
O'Connor retired in 2006 to care for her husband with Alzheimer's, and Samuel Alito succeeded her. She is survived by her three sons – Scott, Brian, and Jay – and six grandchildren, as well as her brother, Alan Day.
For more information see Juja Murgai and David Cohen “Sandra Day O’Connor, first woman Supreme Court justice, dies at 93”, Politico, December 1, 2023.