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

Arizona delegation gathered on the House floor Friday for a moment of silence

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Ensuring Judicial Independence Through Civics Education" on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. O'Connor died on Friday at the age of 93.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Ensuring Judicial Independence Through Civics Education" on Wednesday, July 25, 2012. O'Connor died on Friday at the age of 93. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, died Friday at age 93, according to a statement from the Supreme Court.

O’Connor, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, served more than two decades on the court before retiring in 2006. The announcement from the court said O’Connor died of complications from advanced dementia and a respiratory illness.

O’Connor was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1930 and worked as an attorney in California, Germany and Arizona, before serving as the Assistant Attorney General of the state from 1965 to 1969. O’Connor also served in the Arizona State Senate and majority leader of the chamber before beginning her service as a state court judge in 1975.

In a statement released alongside the announcement, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. praised O’Connor as a “daughter of the American Southwest,” and her status as the country’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. And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot,” Roberts said.

During her tenure on the court, she wrote numerous landmark decisions, including a 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger that upheld affirmative action at the University of Michigan Law School.

The Arizona delegation gathered at the front of the House floor Friday morning to honor O’Connor and have a moment of silence for her.

“Justice O’Connor spent her life breaking down barriers in pursuit of a more just society,” Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., said. “She blazed every trail she set foot on, defying the odds stacked against women in the legal profession.”

He pointed to her time as Arizona’s assistant attorney general, first female majority leader in the state senate, a Maricopa County superior court judge, and ultimately the first female justice on the Supreme Court.

“She brought her Arizona brand of pragmatism and independence with her to the Supreme Court and was often the swing vote on deeply consequential decisions,” Stanton said.

He also praised her work after retirement, with the creation of the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute and work with the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

“I’ve admired her steadfast commitment to preserving our democracy through objective, fact based and collaborative civil discourse,” Stanton said. “Her work will inspire future generations to follow her example to become engaged in thoughtful civil participants.”

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., called O’Connor a trailblazer for “all women across America.”

“She stood up for truth, she stood up for justice,” Lesko said. “She was not only a wonderful woman, and a representative of Arizona, but a wonderful American. And we are saddened by her passing, but she set the trail for all of us women.”

Following O’Connor’s retirement, she was replaced on the court by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The court has not yet announced plans for O’Connor’s funeral. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the court, laid in state at the U.S. Capitol following her death in 2020.

There are three women on the Supreme Court now: Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

O’Connor and Justice Antonin Scalia appear at a Senate Appropriations hearing on May 7, 1992. (Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call)
O’Connor arrives for the inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama on the West Front of the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2009. (CQ Roll Call)

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