First Female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Dies at 93

Milton Quintanilla | Contributor for | Updated: Dec 04, 2023
First Female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Dies at 93

First Female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Dies at 93

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman ever to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, passed away Friday morning at the age of 93. 

In a statement Friday morning, the nation’s high court noted that ‘O Connor’s passing had to do with "complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer's, and a respiratory illness." 

ABC News reported that O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court was a first in the court’s 200 years of existence that a woman could serve.

"The law was a male thing. The Supreme Court was a male place. Merely her presence there as a woman changed everything," said Evan Thomas, O'Connor's official biographer.

"She was a feminist, but she didn't call herself that," Thomas added. "She knew that to get along with these men who were waiting for her to fail, she had to be careful but at the same time tough and strong. It was a hard balance to strike, but she did."

In 1981, Republican President Ronald Reagan appointed O’Connor to the Supreme Court as "truly a person for all seasons.” In addition to being a constitutional conservative, O’Connor’s appointment fulfilled Reagan’s campaign promise of placing a qualified woman on the bench, solidifying the court’s right-leaning majority.

"The proper role of the judiciary is one of interpreting and applying the law -- not making it," O'Connor, then 51, said during her confirmation hearing

At the time, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a vote of 99-0.

"When she arrived, there were no women's bathrooms near the justices' conference room, and they had just removed the plaques that said 'Mr. Justice' from the offices -- but she adapted quickly and confidently," Kate Shaw, ABC News Supreme Court analyst and former clerk for Justice John Paul Stevens, said. "She came to be beloved by her colleagues."

O’Connor, who served for 24 years on the Supreme Court, was usually the deciding factor in multiple cases, including helping Republican George W. Bush win the presidency in the contested 2000 election against Democratic challenger Al Gore.

She was also the deciding vote in the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v Casey, which reaffirmed women's right to abortion.

O’Connor was born in El Paso, Texas, on March 26, 1930, and grew up on her family’s ranch cattle ranch near Duncan, Arizona. According to BBC News, She earned her law degree from Stanford University and worked her first job as a county attorney in San Mateo, California. She agreed to work for nothing at the time, with no office.

"No one gave me a job," Justice O'Connor told the International Bar Association in 2011. "It was very frustrating because I had done very well in both undergraduate and law school, and my male classmates weren't having any problems."

Nevertheless, she later served as Deputy County Attorney of San Mateo County in California and then as Assistant Attorney General of Arizona. In 1969, she was appointed as a Republican to the Arizona State Senate and was re-elected to two two-year terms. Her appointment was the first time a woman in the U.S. served as a majority leader in a state senate.

After over two decades of serving as a Supreme Court Justice, O’Connor retired in 2006 to care for her husband, John Jay O'Connor, who at the time was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He passed away in 2009. 

Her replacement would be Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the majority decision overturning Roe V. Wade in 2022.

In 2018, O’Connor announced that she was diagnosed with dementia, adding that her role in public life had come to an end.

"How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our county," she wrote. "As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court."

"I hope I have inspired young people about civic engagement and helped pave the pathway for women who may have faced obstacles pursuing their careers."

O'Connor is survived by her three sons and six grandchildren.

Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/Leigh Vogel / Stringer

Video Courtesy: MSMBC via YouTube

Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.

First Female Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Dies at 93