In Memoriam: Sandra Day O’Connor

In Memoriam: Sandra Day O’Connor

Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, has died at 93. She was sworn in as Associate Justice on September 25, 1981, and served until 2006. Before her appointment to the Court, she sat on the Arizona Court of Appeals and on the Maricopa County Superior Court, served in the Arizona Senate, and acted as a state assistant attorney general.

The American Law Institute is proud to have had a long relationship with the Justice. A life member of the Institute, she addressed the membership at three Annual Meetings—1983, 2002, and at a special ceremony honoring her service during the 2006 Meeting.

At the 2006 ceremony, Mary M. Schroeder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said of the Justice,

“For five years, Sandra and I were the first and still the only all-woman team of circuit justice and chief circuit judge in the federal courts. I have seen Sandra off to countless barbecues, luncheons, teas, cocktail receptions, dinners, and even a fishing expedition-for trout, not documents-and through it all and for the past 25 years Sandra has constantly been in the spotlight and always surrounded by admiring throngs, particularly of young women and girls.

Raised with cowboys in the West, she found herself in a more public role of decisionmaker than any woman in our nation's history. This must have been an enormous burden, but Sandra handled it all with unceasing grace and charm. To our generation, Sandra, and to the much larger generations of women in the law that followed ours, you will always be the role model's role model. Thank you, Sandra Day O'Connor, very much.”

(Read the complete ceremony remarks, featuring Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court; Mary M. Schroeder of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, D. Brock Hornby of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, and Justice O’Connor.)

After leaving the bench, Justice O’Connor was a tireless advocate for fair and impartial courts, judicial independence, advancing the rule of law in developing democracies, and civic education of the nation’s youth.

Justice O’Connor was awarded ALI’s Henry J. Friendly Medal for outstanding contributions to the law in the spirit of the Institute and the late Judge Friendly. The award was presented by Pierre N. Leval of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to recognizes Justice O’Connor’s lifelong commitment to improving the administration of justice, focusing especially on her activities since retiring from the Supreme Court.

In presenting the award, Judge Leval addressed Justice O’Connor, saying, “Justice O'Connor, your practical wisdom, your sage reluctance to break the molds and toss over precedent, your appreciation of the enormous value of modesty, moderation, and compromise in judging, make you a particularly wonderful and gratifying choice to be honored by The American Law Institute in Henry Friendly's name.”

At the 2002 Annual Meeting, Justice O’Connor spoke on the “need for more knowledge about international law and transnational law,” concluding, “I like to say that we must not be tone deaf to the music of the law. There are lawyers who never hear the law's music. There are lawyers who, indeed, think there is none … And I thank you, members of the ALI, for your appreciation of the music of the law - which, like real music, should transcend international boundaries.”

Below is the press release issued by the Supreme Court.

Retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sandra Day O’Connor died this morning in Phoenix, Arizona, of complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness. She was 93 years old. Justice O’Connor was appointed to the Court by President Reagan in 1981 and retired in 2006, after serving more than 24 years on the Court. She was the first female member of the Court. She is survived by her three sons, Scott (Joanie) O’Connor, Brian (Shawn) O’Connor, and Jay (Heather) O’Connor, six grandchildren: Courtney, Adam, Keely, Weston, Dylan and Luke, and her beloved brother and co-author, Alan Day, Sr. Her husband, John O’Connor, preceded her in death in 2009.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said of Justice O’Connor: “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. And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot.”

Justice O’Connor was born in El Paso, Texas, on March 26, 1930. She married John Jay O’Connor III in 1952. She received her B.A. and LL.B. from Stanford University. She served as Deputy County Attorney of San Mateo County, California, from 1952 to 1953 and as a civilian attorney for Quartermaster Market Center, Frankfurt, Germany, from 1954 to 1957. From 1958 to 1960, she practiced law in Maryvale, Arizona, before serving as Assistant Attorney General of Arizona from 1965 to 1969. She was appointed to the Arizona State Senate in 1969 and was subsequently reelected to two two-year terms, during which she was selected as Majority Leader. In 1975 she was elected Judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court and served until 1979, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Justice O’Connor wrote five books: Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest (2002); The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice (2002); Chico (2005); Finding Susie (2009); and Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court (2013).

Following her tenure on the Supreme Court, she founded and led iCivics, the Nation’s leading civics education platform. As President Reagan said when first introducing her to the American people, she was a woman for all seasons.

Plans regarding Justice O’Connor’s funeral will be released when available.

Read the New York Times feature on Justice O’Connor, detailing her amazing life from her childhood on her family’s ranch on the Arizona-New Mexico border through her groundbreaking time on the Court. (Subscription required.)