Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, passed away on Friday at the age of 93, as officially announced. Retired since 2006, O’Connor died at her home in Phoenix, Arizona, after a prolonged battle with advanced dementia, likely Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness.
A trailblazer hailing from the American Southwest, O’Connor made history as the first female Supreme Court justice. Chief Justice John Roberts praised her “unyielding determination, undeniable competence, and charming candor.” Former President Barack Obama, who awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, expressed sorrow, describing O’Connor as a pathbreaker who built bridges for young women.
Appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, O’Connor filled a vacancy, becoming a pivotal figure during her nearly 25 years on the Supreme Court. Despite initial skepticism about her judicial experience and uncertainty about her stance on issues like abortion, O’Connor defied categorization. Rejecting being solely defined by her gender, she asserted in a 1990 speech, “The power I exercise on the court depends on the power of my arguments, not my gender.”
Born on March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas, O’Connor grew up on her parents’ cattle ranch in southeastern Arizona. Raised in isolation, she developed skills traditionally associated with men, including driving at seven, shooting rifles, and horseback riding at eight. This unique upbringing played a crucial role in her later role as a balancing force in a polarized court.
O’Connor became a “swing vote,” often breaking with conservative colleagues and providing the pivotal fifth vote for a more liberal majority on key issues. Her legacy extends beyond gender barriers, marking her as a trailblazer who navigated complex legal landscapes, contributing significantly to the nation’s highest court.