Sandra Day O’Connor, who served over 24 years on the Supreme Court as its first female justice, died Friday morning in Phoenix. She was 93.
O’Connor, who retired from the high court in 2006, died of “complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness,” the Supreme Court announced.
“A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed an historic trail as our nation’s first female justice,” Chief Justice John Roberts said of her life in the court’s announcement. “She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor.”
O’Connor’s husband, John O’Connor, whom she met while attending Stanford Law School and retired from the high court to take care of, died in 2009.
O’Connor, who came to be considered as centrist to conservative on the high court, was appointed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
Reagan called O’Connor a “woman for all seasons” when introducing her to the American people.
O’Connor was born March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas. She grew up on a cattle ranch near Duncan, Arizona.
After graduating near the top of her class at Stanford in 1952, O’Connor faced sex-based hiring discrimination. She called 40 law firms in California, and “not one of them would give me an interview,” O’Connor recalled in an interview with NPR in 2013.
O’Connor eventually wrote a long letter to the San Mateo County Attorney’s Office in California, offering to work without compensation if necessary, according to a Supreme Court blog post about her life. As a result of that letter, O’Connor got a job as a deputy county attorney and would go on to pave the way for other women in legal careers.
O’Connor, the author of five books, was known for her pragmatic approach in writing 301 opinions for the Supreme Court. She was considered a swing vote by the news media and other court watchers, although she personally disdained that label, according to the blog.
“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,” Roberts said. “And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot.”
In later life, O’Connor was known for her work founding and leading iCivics, a nonprofit civics education platfom that encouraged America’s students to become active citizens.
In 2009, then-President Barack Obama awarded O’Connor the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
She is survived by three sons and six grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report, which will be updated.
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