Iconic Trailblazer Sandra Day O’Connor, the First Woman on the Supreme Court, Passes Away at 93
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a trailblazing figure and the inaugural woman to grace the highest court, peacefully departed on Friday in Phoenix, Arizona. Her passing was attributed to complications linked to advanced dementia, likely Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness, as announced by the court.
Chief Justice John Roberts paid tribute, emphasizing O’Connor’s historic journey as the nation’s inaugural female Justice. He praised her undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor, underscoring her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot.
Embarking on her judicial career in 1974, O’Connor served on the Maricopa County Superior Court before ascending to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979. President Reagan, true to his 1980 campaign promise, appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1981, marking a historic moment with a unanimous 99-0 Senate confirmation vote—the first woman in the court’s 191-year history.
Beyond her groundbreaking appointment, O’Connor’s 24-year tenure was marked by significant contributions. Notably, her pivotal role in the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, reaffirming Roe v. Wade, showcased her influence as the key deciding vote. However, her successor, Justice Samuel Alito, overturned Roe in 2022.
O’Connor’s impact extended to the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, where she authored the majority opinion endorsing the narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions. The recent Supreme Court decision, ending race-conscious admissions programs, reflected a departure from O’Connor’s perspective.
In 2006, O’Connor retired to care for her husband, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Post-retirement, she championed civics education, founding iCivics in 2009. Her advocacy endured, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor supporting the cause on iCivics’ governing board.
In a poignant 2018 open letter, O’Connor disclosed her dementia diagnosis, expressing gratitude for the remarkable opportunities as the first woman justice. From a young cowgirl in the Arizona desert, she rose to unimaginable heights, leaving an indelible mark on American history.
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