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.
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O’Connor was 93 years old.
She died in Phoenix, Arizona, on Friday “of complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness,” the Supreme Court said in a statement.
O’Connor was appointed to the court in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, and served nearly a quarter-century, retiring in 2006.
She was replaced by Justice Samuel Alito, who in 2022 wrote the majority opinion overturning a federal right to abortion that had been protected for decades by the cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
O’Connor had co-authored the majority opinion in the latter opinion, which Alito blasted for having “enflamed debate and deepened division” in the United States.
She stepped back from public life in late 2018, after having problems with her short-term memory, her family said at the time.
Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stands in front of the US Supreme Court Building following her being sworn in, September 25, 1981, in Washington, DC.
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Chief Justice John Roberts, in a statement released by the court, said, “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,” Roberts said. “And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot.”
Iraq Study Group member and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in her offices at the United States Supreme Court on January 23, 2007 in Washington, D.C.
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During her tenure, O’Connor was joined on the nine-member Supreme Court by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Before O’Connor died, Ginsburg was the most recent justice to have died, in September 2020.
Four other women have been appointed to the court since Ginsburg was, all of whom are currently serving: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
O’Connor was serving as a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals when Reagan, a Republican, tapped her to become the first female on the Supreme Court in its then 191-year history.
The Texas native previously served as the as assistant attorney general of Arizona, as a member of the Arizona state Senate, where she was majority leader at one point, and as a judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court.
O’Connor’s husband John died in 2009, three years after she retired to care for him when he was suffering from Alzheimer’s.
She is survived by three sons, six grandchildren and her brother.
The Supreme Court’s press office said that funeral arrangements for O’Connor will be released when avaliable.