Sandra Day O’Connor, First Woman to Serve on the Supreme Court, Passes Away at 93

December 1, 2023

As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.

Former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first of six women to have ever served on the high court. On Friday at age 93, O’Connor passed away “of complications related to advanced dementia … and a respiratory illness,” the Supreme Court said in a press release.

Big Picture: Born in El Paso, Texas, O’Connor “had a tenacious, independent spirit that came naturally” (The Associated Press). Growing up on her family’s ranch, O’Connor learned to ride horses before she was eight years old and went on to become one of Stanford Law School’s top-ranked graduates. During the 1950s, she went with her husband to Frankfurt, Germany, where she served as a civilian lawyer with the Quartermaster Corps of the U.S. Army. After returning to the U.S., “O’Connor … successfully ran for election … serving in the legislative branch of state government,” The New York Times reports of her time in the Arizona State Senate and proceeding state court judgeship, noting that “No woman in the country had held such a high office in state legislature.” Following her experience in both local and state government, President Ronald Reagan appointed O’Connor – 51 years old at the time – to the Supreme Court, where she served as “its most powerful justice for much of her tenure …” (The Wall Street Journal).

As a legislator, O’Connor worked towards changing various state laws that discriminated against women; throughout her nearly 25 years on the Supreme Court, “She authored 676 opinions … 301 of which were the Opinion of the Court, touching on a wide range of issues,” including abortion rights and affirmative action, looking to find middle ground (The Supreme Court). O’Connor retired from the Court in 2006 to care from her husband who later passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.

President Barack Obama later awarded O’Connor the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The New York Times reports, “Justice O’Connor spent an active retirement, sitting as a visiting judge on federal appeals courts around the country and speaking and writing widely in support of two causes, judicial independence and civics education. She also catered to her six grandchildren, taking them on trips and writing two children’s books based on her own colorful childhood (O’Connor authored a total of five books.) During her retirement, she also founded iCivics, “a web-based education project aimed at engaging middle school and high school students in civics” (Supreme Court).

Did You Know? Inducted to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in 2002, Justice O’Connor said, “As a child I grew up hoping to be a cattle rancher myself one day … My career in time took a different turn, becoming the first cowgirl to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court …”

A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed an historic trail as our Nation’s first female Justice. She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor. We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education.

Chief Justice John Roberts in a statement on the late Justice O’Connor.

Read More: Sandra Day O’Connor, First Woman on the Supreme Court, Is Dead at 93 (The New York Times)

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, has died at 93 (The Associated Press)

Sandra Day O’Connor, first woman on the Supreme Court, dies at 93 (SCOTUSblog)

by Leah Grainery, based in Texas