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

Sandra Day O'Connor smiles as she arrives for the start of her confirmation hearings in 1981. Associated Press, file

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

O’Connor passed away at her home in Phoenix, Ariz., according to a Supreme Court statement released Friday morning. She died from advanced dementia complications, likely Alzheimer’s disease, and a respiratory illness, the court said. She had withdrawn from public life in 2018 after being diagnosed with dementia. O’Connor “blazed an historic trail” as the first female justice and “met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor,” Chief Justice John Roberts said.

What is her legacy? O’Connor served in all three branches of Arizona’s government before she arrived in Washington in 1981. President Ronald Reagan appointed the moderate jurist, then a registered Republican, as the first woman to serve on the bench. He expected her to join the court’s conservatives, but during her 24-year term, O’Connor became a frequent swing vote on controversial cases. While she said she disagreed with abortion, she also did not want to eliminate it. In 1992, she co-drafted the Pennsylvania opinion that strengthened Roe v. Wade. In 2000, she was the deciding vote in Bush v. Gore that certified President George W. Bush’s win. She sided with liberal justices in 2003 to allow the University of Michigan to consider race in its admissions. O’Connor was a cancer survivor. In 1988, she underwent a mastectomy for an early-stage malignant tumor while remaining active in the court. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for paving the way for more women to join the Supreme Court. After retiring in 2006, O’Connor started an online civics course for children. She is survived by three sons.

Dig deeper: Read Lynn Vincent’s report in WORLD Magazine about how the U.S. Supreme Court has changed since O’Connor’s retirement.

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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