Sandra Day O'Connor

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Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor.jpg
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
In office
September 25, 1981 January 31, 2006 [1] [2]
Nominated by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Potter Stewart
Succeeded by Samuel Alito
23rd Chancellor of the College of William and Mary
In office
October 4, 2005 February 3, 2012
President Gene Nichol
Taylor Reveley
Preceded by Henry Kissinger
Succeeded by Robert Gates
Judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals for Division One
In office
December 1979 September 25, 1981
Nominated by Bruce Babbitt
Preceded by Mary Schroeder
Succeeded by Sarah D. Grant [3]
Judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court for Division 31
In office
January 1975 December 1979
Preceded byDavid Perry
Succeeded byCecil Patterson [4]
Member of the Arizona Senate
from the 24th district
In office
January 8, 1973 January 13, 1975
Preceded by Howard S. Baldwin
Succeeded by John Pritzlaff
Member of the Arizona Senate
from the 20th district
In office
January 11, 1971 January 8, 1973
Preceded byConstituency established
Succeeded by Bess Stinson
Member of the Arizona Senate
from the 8-E district
In office
October 30, 1969 January 11, 1971
Preceded by Isabel Burgess
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
Sandra Day

(1930-03-26) March 26, 1930 (age 89)
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
Political party Republican
John Jay O'Connor
(m. 1952;died 2009)
Relatives Ann Day (sister)
Education Stanford University (BA, LLB)
Signature Oconnorsig.svg

Sandra Day O'Connor (born March 26, 1930) is a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, who served from her appointment in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan until her retirement in 2006. She was the first woman to serve on the Court. [5]

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States member of the U.S. Supreme Court other than the Chief Justice

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is the title of all members of the Supreme Court of the United States other than the Chief Justice of the United States. The number of associate justices is eight, as set by the Judiciary Act of 1869.

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Established pursuant to Article III of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, it has original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. It also has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal court and state court cases that involve a point of federal constitutional or statutory law. The Court has the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the Constitution or an executive act for being unlawful. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide nonjusticiable political questions.

Ronald Reagan 40th president of the United States

Ronald Wilson Reagan was an American politician who served as the 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Prior to his presidency, he was a Hollywood actor and union leader before serving as the 33rd governor of California from 1967 to 1975.


Prior to O'Connor's tenure on the Court, she was a judge and an elected official in Arizona serving as the first female Majority Leader of a state senate as the Republican leader in the Arizona Senate. [6] Upon her nomination to the Court, O'Connor was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. On July 1, 2005, she announced her intention to retire effective upon the confirmation of a successor. [7] Samuel Alito was nominated to take her seat in October 2005, and joined the Court on January 31, 2006.

Arizona state of the United States of America

Arizona is a state in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the Western and the Mountain states. It is the sixth largest and the 14th most populous of the 50 states. Its capital and largest city is Phoenix. Arizona shares the Four Corners region with Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico; its other neighboring states are Nevada and California to the west and the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California to the south and southwest.

Arizona Senate part of the Arizona Legislature, the state legislature of the US state of Arizona

The Arizona Senate is part of the Arizona Legislature, the state legislature of the US state of Arizona. The Senate consists of 30 members each representing an average of 219,859 constituents. Members serve two-year terms with term limits that limit Senators to four terms for a total of eight years. Members of the Republican Party are currently the majority in the Senate.

Samuel Alito Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and has served since January 31, 2006.

As a moderate Republican, O'Connor tended to approach each case narrowly without arguing for sweeping precedents. She most frequently sided with the Court's conservative bloc; having the swing opinion in many decisions. She often wrote concurring opinions that limited the reach of the majority holding. Her majority opinions in landmark cases include Grutter v. Bollinger and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld . She also wrote in part the per curiam majority opinion in Bush v. Gore , and was one of three co-authors of the lead opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey .

Rockefeller Republican Political ideology within the American Republican Party

The Rockefeller Republicans, also called Moderate or Liberal Republicans, were members of the Republican Party (GOP) in the 1930s–1970s who held moderate to liberal views on domestic issues, similar to those of Nelson Rockefeller, Governor of New York (1959–1973) and Vice President of the United States (1974–1977). Rockefeller Republicanism has been described as the last phase of the "Eastern Establishment" of the GOP which had been led by New York governor Thomas E. Dewey. The group's powerful role in the GOP came under heavy attack in 1964 and it lost most of its influence. At a discouraging point in the 1964 primary campaign against Barry Goldwater in California, political operative Stuart Spencer called on Rockefeller to "summon that fabled nexus of money, influence, and condescension known as the Eastern Establishment." Rockefeller replied, "You are looking at it, buddy, I am all that is left".

A swing vote is a vote that is seen as potentially going to any of a number of candidates in an election, or, in a two-party system, may go to either of the two dominant political parties. Such votes are usually sought after in election campaigns, since they can play a big role in determining the outcome.

Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), was a landmark case in which the United States Supreme Court upheld the affirmative action admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority in a 5–4 decision and joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, ruled that the University of Michigan Law School had a compelling interest in promoting class diversity. The Court held that a race-conscious admissions process that may favor "underrepresented minority groups", but that also took into account many other factors evaluated on an individual basis for every applicant, did not amount to a quota system that would have been unconstitutional under Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The Court applied strict scrutiny that it claimed was made "no less strict" when it followed a "tradition of giving a degree of deference" "within constitutionally prescribed limits" to the university regarding the compelling nature of its interest in diversity.

Several publications have named her among the most powerful women in the world. [8] [9] On August 12, 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States, by President Barack Obama.

Presidential Medal of Freedom Joint-highest civilian award of the United States, bestowed by the President

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the President of the United States. The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal are the highest civilian awards of the United States. It recognizes those people who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors". The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform.

Barack Obama 44th president of the United States

Barack Hussein Obama II is an American attorney and politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, he was the first African American to be elected to the presidency. He previously served as a U.S. senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008.

Early life and education

Sandra Day was born in El Paso, Texas, the daughter of Harry Alfred Day, a rancher, and Ada Mae (Wilkey). [10] She grew up on a 198,000-acre cattle ranch near Duncan, Arizona. [11] The ranch was nine miles from the nearest paved road. [12] The family home did not have running water or electricity until Sandra was seven years old. [13] She hunted from a young age, using a .22-caliber rifle to shoot jackrabbits for food. [12] She began driving as soon as she could see over the dashboard and had to learn to change flat automobile tires herself. [11] [12] Sandra had two younger siblings, a sister and a brother, respectively eight and ten years her junior. [13] Her sister was Ann Day, who served in the Arizona Legislature. [14] She later wrote a book with her brother, H. Alan Day, Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American West (2002), about her childhood experiences on the ranch. For most of her early schooling, O'Connor lived in El Paso with her maternal grandmother, [13] and attended school at the Radford School for Girls, a private school.[ citation needed ] The family cattle ranch was too far from schools, although O'Connor was able to return to the ranch for holidays and the summer. [13] O'Connor spent her eighth-grade year living at the ranch and riding a bus 32 miles to school. [13] She graduated sixth in her class at Austin High School in El Paso in 1946. [15]

El Paso, Texas City in Texas, United States

El Paso is a city in and the county seat of El Paso County, Texas, United States, in the far western part of the state. The 2017 population estimate for the city from the U.S. Census was 683,577. Its metropolitan statistical area (MSA) covers all of El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas, and has a population of 844,818.

Texas State of the United States of America

Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, and has a coastline with the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast.

Ranch Area of land used for raising grazing livestock

A ranch is an area of land, including various structures, given primarily to the practice of ranching, the practice of raising grazing livestock such as cattle or sheep for meat or wool. The word most often applies to livestock-raising operations in Mexico, the Western United States and Western Canada, though there are ranches in other areas. People who own or operate a ranch are called ranchers, cattlemen, or stockgrowers. Ranching is also a method used to raise less common livestock such as elk, American bison or even ostrich, emu, and alpaca.

Sandra Day attended Stanford University, where she received her B.A. in Economics in 1950. [16] She continued at the Stanford Law School for her law degree in 1952. [16] There, she served on the Stanford Law Review with its presiding editor-in-chief, future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was the class valedictorian [17] and whom she briefly dated during law school. [18] She has stated that she graduated third in her law school class, [19] though Stanford's official position is that the law school did not rank students in 1952. [20]

Stanford University private research university located in Stanford, California, United States

Leland Stanford Junior University is a private research university in Stanford, California. Stanford is known for its academic strength, wealth, proximity to Silicon Valley, and ranking as one of the world's top universities.

Stanford Law School graduate school of Stanford University, California, U.S

Stanford Law School is a professional graduate school of Stanford University, located in Silicon Valley near Palo Alto, California. Established in 1893, Stanford Law has been ranked one of the top three law schools in the country, with Yale Law School and Harvard Law School, every year since 1992. Since 2016, Stanford Law has been ranked 2nd. Stanford Law is consistently regarded as one of the most prestigious law schools in the world.

The Stanford Law Review (SLR) is a legal journal produced independently by Stanford Law School students. The journal was established in 1948 with future U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher as its first president. The review produces six issues yearly between January and June and regularly publishes short-form content on the Stanford Law Review Online.

Early career and marriage

On December 20, 1952, six months after graduating from law school, she married John Jay O'Connor III, [21] whom she had met at Stanford Law School. [12]

Upon graduation from law school, while her classmate Rehnquist went on to clerk for the Supreme Court, O'Connor had difficulty finding a paying job as an attorney because of her gender. [22] O'Connor found employment as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, California, after she offered to work for no salary and without an office, sharing space with a secretary. [23] She worked with San Mateo County district attorney Louis Dematteis and deputy district attorney Keith Sorensen. [21]

When her husband was drafted, O'Connor decided to pick up and go with him to work in Germany as a civilian attorney for the Army's Quartermaster Corps. [24] They remained there for three years before returning to the states where they settled in Maricopa County, Arizona, to begin their family. They had three sons: Scott (born 1958), Brian (born 1960), and Jay (born 1962). [25] [13] Following Brian's birth, O'Connor took a five-year hiatus from the practice of law. [13]

She volunteered in various political organizations, such as the Maricopa County Young Republicans, and served on the presidential campaign for Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater in 1964. [26] [13]

O'Connor served as assistant Attorney General of Arizona from 1965 to 1969. [13] In 1969, the governor of Arizona appointed O'Connor to fill a vacancy in the Arizona Senate. [13] She ran for and won the election for the seat the following year. [13] By 1973, she became the first woman to serve as Arizona's or any state's Majority Leader. [27] [28] She developed a reputation as a skilled negotiator and a moderate. After serving two full terms, O'Connor decided to leave the Senate. [28]

In 1974, O'Connor was elected to the Maricopa County Superior Court [29] serving from 1975 to 1979 when she was elevated to the Arizona State Court of Appeals. She served on the Court of Appeals-Division One until 1981 when she was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan. [30]

Supreme Court career


Supreme Court Justice-nominee Sandra Day O'Connor talks with President Ronald Reagan outside the White House, July 15, 1981. President Reagan and Sandra Day O'Connor.jpg
Supreme Court Justice-nominee Sandra Day O'Connor talks with President Ronald Reagan outside the White House, July 15, 1981.

On July 7, 1981, Reagan – who had pledged during his 1980 presidential campaign to appoint the first woman to the Court [31]  – announced he would nominate O'Connor as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to replace the retiring Potter Stewart. [32] O'Connor received notification from President Reagan of her nomination on the day prior to the announcement and did not know that she was a finalist for the position. [23]

Reagan wrote in his diary on July 6, 1981: "Called Judge O'Connor and told her she was my nominee for supreme court. Already the flak is starting and from my own supporters. Right to Life people say she is pro abortion. She declares abortion is personally repugnant to her. I think she'll make a good justice." [33] O'Connor told Reagan she did not remember whether she had supported the view of repealing Arizona's law banning abortion. [34] However, she had cast a preliminary vote in the Arizona State Senate in 1970 in favor of a bill to repeal the state's criminal-abortion statute. [35] In 1974, O'Connor had opined against a measure to prohibit abortions in some Arizona hospitals. [35] Pro-life and religious groups opposed O'Connor's nomination because they suspected, correctly, she would not be willing to overturn Roe v Wade. [36] U.S. Senate Republicans, including Don Nickles of Oklahoma, Steve Symms of Idaho, and Jesse Helms of North Carolina called the White House to express their discontent over the nomination; Nickles said he and "other profamily Republican senators would not support" O'Connor. [36] Helms, Nickles, and Symms nevertheless voted for confirmation. [37]

Reagan formally nominated O'Connor on August 19, 1981. [38]

O'Connor being sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger Photograph of Sandra Day O'Connor Being Sworn in a Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice Warren Burger....jpg
O'Connor being sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger

Conservative activists such as the Reverend Jerry Falwell, Howard Phillips, and Peter Gemma also spoke out against the nomination. Gemma called the nomination "a direct contradiction of the Republican platform to everything that candidate Reagan said and even President Reagan has said in regard to social issues." [39] Gemma, the executive director of the National Pro-Life Political Action Committee, had sought to delay O'Connor's confirmation by challenging her record, including support for the Equal Rights Amendment. [40]

O'Connor's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee began on September 9, 1981. [41] It was the first televised confirmation hearing for a Supreme Court Justice. [42] The confirmation hearing lasted three days and largely focused on the issue of abortion. [43] When asked, O'Connor refused to telegraph her views on abortion, and she was careful not to leave the impression that she supported abortion rights. [44] The Judiciary Committee approved O'Connor with seventeen votes in favor and one vote of present. [43]

On September 21, O'Connor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate with a vote of 99–0; [32] [45] Senator Max Baucus of Montana was absent from the vote, and sent O'Connor a copy of A River Runs Through It by way of apology. [46] In her first year on the Court she received over 60,000 letters from the public, more than any other justice in history. [47]

Supreme Court jurisprudence

Voting record and deciding votes

Justice O'Connor presents Alberto Gonzales to the audience after swearing him in as U.S. Attorney General, as Becky Gonzales looks on. O'ConnorGonzalesCloseUp.jpg
Justice O'Connor presents Alberto Gonzales to the audience after swearing him in as U.S. Attorney General, as Becky Gonzales looks on.

Sandra Day O'Connor was part of the federalism movement and approached each case as narrowly as possible,[ citation needed ] avoiding generalizations that might later "paint her into a corner" for future cases.[ citation needed ] Initially, her voting record aligned closely with the conservative William Rehnquist (voting with him 87% of the time her first three years at the Court). [48] From that time until 1998, O'Connor's alignment with Rehnquist ranged from 93.4% to 63.2%, hitting above 90% in three of those years. [49] In nine of her first sixteen years on the Court, O'Connor voted with Rehnquist more than with any other justice. [49]

Later on, as the Court's make-up became more conservative (e.g., Anthony Kennedy replacing Lewis Powell, and Clarence Thomas replacing Thurgood Marshall), O'Connor often became the swing vote on the Court. However, she usually disappointed the Court's more liberal bloc in contentious 5–4 decisions: from 1994 to 2004, she joined the traditional conservative bloc of Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Thomas 82 times; she joined the liberal bloc of John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer only 28 times. [50]

O'Connor's relatively small [51] shift away from conservatives on the Court seems to have been due at least in part to Thomas's views. [52] When Thomas and O'Connor were voting on the same side, she would typically write a separate opinion of her own, refusing to join his. [53] In the 1992 term, O'Connor did not join a single one of Thomas' dissents. [54]

Some notable cases in which O'Connor joined the majority in a 5-4 decision were:

O'Connor played an important role in other notable cases, such as:

  • Webster v. Reproductive Health Services , 492 U.S. 490 (1989): This decision upheld as constitutional state restrictions on second trimester abortions that are not necessary to protect maternal health, contrary to the original trimester requirements in Roe v. Wade . Although O'Connor joined the majority, which also included Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy and Byron White, in a concurring opinion she refused to explicitly overturn Roe.

On February 22, 2005, with Rehnquist and Stevens (who were senior to her) absent, she became the senior justice presiding over oral arguments in the case of Kelo v. City of New London and becoming the first woman to do so before the Court.[ citation needed ]

First Amendment

Justice O'Connor was unpredictable in many of her court decisions, especially those regarding First Amendment Establishment Cause issues. Avoiding ideology, she decided on a case-by-case basis and voted with careful deliberation in a way that she felt benefited individual rights and the Constitution (which she viewed to be "an ever changing work in progress.") Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, "O'Connor was a conservative, but she saw the complexity of church-state issues and tried to choose a course that respected the country's religious diversity" (Hudson 2005). O'Connor voted in favor of religious institutions,[ clarification needed ] such as in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris , Mitchell v. Helms , and Rosenberger v. University of Virginia . Conversely, in Lee v. Weisman she was part of the majority in the case that saw religious prayer and pressure to stand in silence at a graduation ceremony as part of a religious act that coerced people to support or to participate in religion, which is strictly prohibited by the Establishment Clause. This is consistent with a similar case, Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, involving prayer at a school football game. In this case O'Connor joined the majority opinion that stated prayer at school football games violates the Establishment Clause. O'Connor was the first justice to articulate the "no endorsement" standard for the Establishment Clause. [57] In Lynch v. Donnelly , O'Connor signed onto a five-justice majority opinion holding that a nativity scene in a public Christmas display did not violate the First Amendment. She penned a concurrence in that case, opining that the crèche was not violative of the Establishment Clause because it did not express an endorsement or disapproval of any religion. [57]

Fourth Amendment

According to law professor Jeffrey Rosen, "O'Connor was an eloquent opponent of intrusive group searches that threatened privacy without increasing security. In a 1983 opinion upholding searches by drug-sniffing dogs, she recognized that a search is most likely to be considered constitutionally reasonable if it is very effective at discovering contraband without revealing innocent but embarrassing information." [58] Washington College of Law law professor Andrew Taslitz, referencing O'Connor's dissent in a 2001 case, said of her Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: "O'Connor recognizes that needless humiliation of an individual is an important factor in determining Fourth Amendment reasonableness." [59] O'Connor once quoted the social contract theory of John Locke as influencing her views on the reasonableness and constitutionality of government action. [60]

Cases involving race

In the 1990 and 1995 Missouri v. Jenkins rulings, O'Connor voted with the majority that district courts had no authority to require the state of Missouri to increase school funding in order to counteract racial inequality. In the 1991 Freeman v. Pitts case, O'Connor joined a concurring opinion in a plurality, agreeing that a school district that had formerly been under judicial review for racial segregation could be freed of this review, even though not all desegregation targets had been met. Law professor Herman Schwartz criticized these rulings, writing that in both cases "both the fact and effects of segregation were still present." [61]

In McCleskey v. Kemp in 1987, O'Connor joined a 5–4 majority that voted to uphold the death penalty for an African American man, Warren McCleskey, convicted of killing a white police officer, despite statistical evidence that black defendants were more likely to receive the death penalty than others both in Georgia and in the U.S. as a whole. [61] [62] [63]

In 1996's Shaw v. Hunt and Shaw v. Reno , O'Connor joined a Rehnquist opinion, following an earlier precedent from an opinion she authored in 1993, in which the Court struck down an electoral districting plan designed to facilitate the election of two black representatives out of twelve from North Carolina, a state that had not had any black representative since Reconstruction, despite being approximately 20% black [61] —the Court held that the districts were unacceptably gerrymandered and O'Connor called the odd shape of the district in question, North Carolina's 12th, "bizarre".

Law Professor Herman Schwartz called O'Connor "the Court's leader in its assault on racially oriented affirmative action," [61] although she joined with the Court in upholding the constitutionality of race-based admissions to universities. [31]

In 2003, she authored a majority Supreme Court opinion ( Grutter v. Bollinger ) saying racial affirmative action shouldn't be constitutional permanently, but long enough to correct past discrimination—with an approximate limit of around 25 years. [64]


The Christian right element in the Reagan coalition strongly supported him in 1980, in the belief that he would appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe vs Wade. They were astonished and dismayed when his first appointment was O'Connor, whom they feared would tolerate abortion. They worked hard to defeat her confirmation but failed. [65] In her confirmation hearings and early days on the Court, O'Connor was carefully ambiguous on the issue of abortion, as some conservatives questioned her pro-life credentials on the basis of some of her votes in the Arizona legislature. [36] O'Connor generally dissented from 1980s opinions which took an expansive view of Roe v. Wade ; she criticized that decision's "trimester approach" sharply in her dissent in 1983's City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health. She criticized Roe in Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists : "... I dispute not only the wisdom but also the legitimacy of the Court's attempt to discredit and pre-empt state abortion regulation regardless of the interests it serves and the impact it has." [66] In 1989, O'Connor stated during the deliberations over the Webster case that she would not overrule Roe. [67] While on the Court, O'Connor did not vote to strike down any restrictions on abortion until Hodgson v. Minnesota in 1990. [68]

O'Connor allowed certain limits to be placed on access to abortion, but supported the fundamental right to abortion protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey , O'Connor used a test she had originally developed in City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health to limit the holding of Roe v. Wade , opening up a legislative portal where a State could enact measures so long as they did not place an "undue burden" on a woman's right to an abortion. Casey revised downward the standard of scrutiny federal courts would apply to state abortion restrictions, a major departure from Roe. However it preserved Roe's core constitutional precept: that the Fourteenth Amendment implies and protects a woman's fundamental right to control the outcomes of her reproductive actions. Writing the plurality opinion for the Court, O'Connor, along with Justices Kennedy and Souter, famously declared: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State." [69]

Foreign law

O'Connor was a vigorous defender of the citing of foreign laws in judicial decisions. [70] In a well-publicized[ citation needed ] October 28, 2003, speech at the Southern Center for International Studies, O'Connor said:

The impressions we create in this world are important and can leave their mark ... [T]here is talk today about the "internationalization of legal relations". We are already seeing this in American courts, and should see it increasingly in the future. This does not mean, of course, that our courts can or should abandon their character as domestic institutions. But conclusions reached by other countries and by the international community, although not formally binding upon our decisions, should at times constitute persuasive authority in American courts—what is sometimes called "transjudicialism". [71]

In the speech she noted the 2002 Court case Atkins v. Virginia , in which the majority decision (which included her) cited disapproval of the death penalty in Europe as part of its argument. This speech, and the general concept of relying on foreign law and opinion, was widely criticized by conservatives. In May 2004, a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives responded by passing a non-binding resolution, the "Reaffirmation of American Independence Resolution", stating that "U.S. judicial decisions should not be based on any foreign laws, court decisions, or pronouncements of foreign governments unless they are relevant to determining the meaning of American constitutional and statutory law." [72]

O'Connor once quoted the constitution of the Middle Eastern nation of Bahrain, which states that "[n]o authority shall prevail over the judgement of a judge, and under no circumstances may the course of justice be interfered with." Further, "[i]t is in everyone's interest to foster the rule-of-law evolution." O'Connor proposed that such ideas be taught in American law schools, high schools and universities. Critics contend that such thinking is contrary to the U.S. Constitution and establishes a rule of man, rather than law. [71] In her retirement, she has continued to speak and organize conferences on the issue of judicial independence.

Commentary and analysis

O'Connor's case-by-case approach routinely placed her in the center of the Court and drew both criticism and praise. The Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, for example, described her as lacking a judicial philosophy and instead displaying "political positioning embedded in a social agenda." [73] Conservative commentator, Ramesh Ponnuru, wrote that, even though O'Connor "has voted reasonably well", her tendency to issue very case-specific rulings "undermines the predictability of the law and aggrandizes the judicial role." [74]

Response to being first woman on the Supreme Court

O'Connor has said she felt a responsibility to demonstrate women could do the job of justice. [23] She faced some practical concerns, including the lack of a woman's restroom near the Courtroom. [23]

Two years after O'Connor joined the Court, The New York Times published an editorial which mentioned the "nine men" [75] of the "SCOTUS", or Supreme Court of the United States. [75] O'Connor responded with a letter to the editor reminding the Times that the Court was no longer composed of nine men and referred to herself as FWOTSC (First Woman On The Supreme Court). [76]

In several speeches broadcast nationally on the cable network C-SPAN, she mentioned feeling some relief from the media clamor when Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined her as an Associate Justice of the Court in 1993.[ citation needed ] In May 2010, O'Connor warned female Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan about the "unpleasant" process of confirmation hearings. [77]

Other activities while serving on the Court

In 2003, she wrote a book titled The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice ( ISBN   0-375-50925-9).[ citation needed ] In 2005, she wrote a children's book, Chico, named for her favorite horse, which gives an autobiographical description of her childhood. [78]


On December 12, 2000, The Wall Street Journal reported that O'Connor was reluctant to retire with a Democrat in the presidency: "At an Election Night party at the Washington, D.C. home of Mary Ann Stoessel, widow of former Ambassador Walter Stoessel, the justice's husband, John O'Connor, mentioned to others her desire to step down, according to three witnesses. But Mr. O'Connor said his wife would be reluctant to retire if a Democrat were in the White House and would choose her replacement. Justice O'Connor declined to comment." [79]

Justice O'Connor and her husband John O'Connor with President George W. Bush in May 2004. SandraOconnor and GeorgeWBush May2004.jpg
Justice O'Connor and her husband John O'Connor with President George W. Bush in May 2004.
Justice O'Connor's letter to Bush, dated July 1, 2005, announcing her retirement Oconnor070105 0001.jpg
Justice O'Connor's letter to Bush, dated July 1, 2005, announcing her retirement

By 2005, the composition of the Court had been unchanged for eleven years, the second-longest period in American history without any such change. Rehnquist was widely expected to be the first justice to retire during Bush's term, owing to his age and his battle with cancer, although rumors of O'Connor's possible retirement circulated as well. [80] Before deciding to retire, O'Connor consulted Rehnquist on his plans in an attempt to avoid having two retirements at the same time. [81]

On July 1, 2005, O'Connor announced her intention to retire. In her letter to Bush, she stated that her retirement from active service would take effect upon the confirmation of her successor. [80] Her letter did not provide a reason for her departure; however, a Supreme Court spokeswoman confirmed O'Connor was leaving to spend time with her husband, [80] who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. [81] At her retirement she was still in good health, an exception to the usual practice of justices serving until death or nearly incapacitated. [81]

On July 19, Bush nominated D.C. Circuit Judge John Roberts to succeed O'Connor. O'Connor heard the news over the car radio on the way back from a fishing trip. [82] She felt he was an excellent and highly qualified choice—he had argued numerous cases before the Court during her tenure.[ citation needed ] However, she was disappointed her replacement was not a woman. [83]

O'Connor had expected to leave the Court before the next term started on October 3, 2005. [84] [85] However, Rehnquist died on September 3, [86] creating an immediate vacancy on the Court. [87] Two days later, Bush withdrew Roberts as his nominee for her seat and instead appointed him to fill the vacant office of Chief Justice. [88] O'Connor agreed to stay on the Court until her replacement was named and confirmed. [88] She spoke at the late Chief Justice's funeral. [89] On October 3, Bush nominated White House Counsel Harriet Miers to replace O'Connor. [90] After much criticism and controversy over her nomination, on October 27, Miers asked Bush to withdraw her nomination. [91] Bush accepted, reopening the search for O'Connor's successor. [91]

The continued delays in confirming a successor further extended O'Connor's time on the Court. [85] She continued to hear oral argument on cases, including cases dealing with controversial issues such as physician-assisted suicide and abortion. [85] O'Connor's last Court opinion, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of New England , written for a unanimous court, was a procedural decision that involved a challenge to a New Hampshire abortion law. [92]

On October 31, Bush nominated Third Circuit Judge Samuel Alito to replace O'Connor; [93] Alito was confirmed and sworn in on January 31, 2006. [94] After retiring, she continued to hear cases and rendered over a dozen opinions in federal appellate courts across the country, filling in as a substitute judge when vacations or vacancies leave their three-member panels understaffed. [95]

Post–Supreme Court career

O'Connor in 2008 with Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan. Kagan became the fourth female Justice on the Court. O'Connor and Kagan.jpg
O'Connor in 2008 with Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan. Kagan became the fourth female Justice on the Court.


During a March 2006 speech at Georgetown University, O'Connor said some political attacks on the independence of the Courts pose a direct threat to the constitutional freedoms of Americans. She said "any reform of the system is debatable as long as it is not motivated by 'nakedly partisan reasoning' retaliation because congressmen or senators dislike the result of the cases. Courts interpret the law as it was written, not as the congressmen might have wished it was written", and "it takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings." [96] She echoed her concerns for an independent judiciary during the dedication address at the Elon University School of Law in September of that same year.

On November 19, 2008, O'Connor published an introductory essay to a themed issue on judicial accountability in the Denver University Law Review. She calls for a better public understanding of judicial accountability. [97] On November 7, 2007, at a conference on her landmark opinion in Strickland v. Washington (1984) sponsored by the Constitution Project, highlighted the lack of proper legal representation for many of the poorest defendants. [98] O'Connor also urged the creation of a system for "merit selection for judges," a cause for which she had frequently advocated. [98] [99]

On August 7, 2008, O'Connor and Abdurrahman Wahid, former President of Indonesia, wrote an editorial in the Financial Times stating concerns about the threatened imprisonment of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. [100]

Following the Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision on corporate political spending, O'Connor offered measured criticism of the decision, telling Georgetown law students and lawyers, "that the Court has created an unwelcome new path for wealthy interests to exert influence on judicial elections." [101]

O'Connor argued in favor of President Barack Obama naming the replacement for Antonin Scalia in February 2016, mere days after Scalia's death, opposing Republican arguments that the next president should get to fill the vacancy. She said, "I think we need somebody there to do the job now and let's get on with it"; and that "[y]ou just have to pick the best person you can under the circumstances, as the appointing authority must do. It's an important position and one that we care about as a nation and as a people. And I wish the president well as he makes choices and goes down that line. It's hard." [102]

Judge William H. Pryor, Jr., a conservative jurist, has criticized O'Connor's speeches and op-eds for hyperbole and factual inaccuracy, based in part on O'Connor's opinions as to whether judges face a rougher time in the public eye today than in the past. [103] [104]

O'Connor has reflected on her time on the Supreme Court by saying that she regrets the Court hearing the Bush v. Gore case in 2000 because it "stirred up the public" and "gave the Court a less-than-perfect reputation." The former justice told the Chicago Tribune that "Maybe the Court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye,' ... It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn't done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day." [105] [106] [107]

Activities and memberships

As a Retired Supreme Court Justice, O'Connor continued to receive a full salary, maintained a staffed office with at least one law clerk, and heard cases on a part-time basis in federal district courts and courts of appeals as a visiting judge. [108] By 2008, O'Connor had sat for cases with the 2nd, 8th, and 9th Circuits. [109] [110] O'Connor heard an Arizona voting rights case which the Supreme Court later reviewed. [108] In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona , a 7-2 majority affirmed O'Connor and the rest of 9th Circuit panel, and struck down a provision of Arizona's voting registration law. [111] O'Connor hired a law clerk for the October 2015 term, but did not hire a law clerk for the subsequent term. [112] [113]

The Sandra Day O'Connor Project on the State of the judiciary, named for O'Connor, held annual conferences from 2006 through 2008 on the independence of the judiciary. [114]

She is[ when? ] a trustee on the board of the Rockefeller Foundation.[ citation needed ]

On October 4, 2005, the College of William & Mary announced that O'Connor had accepted [115] the largely ceremonial role of becoming the 23rd Chancellor of the College. O'Connor continued in the role until 2012. [116] [22]

O'Connor was a member of the 2006 Iraq Study Group, appointed by the U.S. Congress. [117]

O'Connor chaired the Jamestown 2007 celebration, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Her appearances in Jamestown dovetailed with her appearances and speeches as chancellor at The College of William & Mary nearby.

The four women who have served on the Court (from left to right: O'Connor and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan) on October 1, 2010, prior to Justice Kagan's Investiture Ceremony. O'Connor, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan.jpg
The four women who have served on the Court (from left to right: O'Connor and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan) on October 1, 2010, prior to Justice Kagan's Investiture Ceremony.


As of Spring 2006, O'Connor taught a two-week course called "The Supreme Court" at the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law every spring semester.

In the fall of 2007, O'Connor and W. Scott Bales taught a course at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.


She wrote the 2013 book Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. [118]

Public speaking engagements

On May 15, 2006, O'Connor gave the commencement address at the William & Mary School of Law, where she said that judicial independence is "under serious attack at both the state and national level". [119]

In 2008, O'Connor was named an inaugural Harry Rathbun Visiting Fellow by the Office for Religious Life at Stanford University. On April 22, 2008, she gave "Harry's Last Lecture on a Meaningful Life" in honor of the former Stanford Law professor who shaped her undergraduate and law careers. [120]

On September 17, 2014, O'Connor appeared on the television show Jeopardy! and provided a couple of video answers to the category 'Supreme Court' which appeared on the show. On the same day in Concord, New Hampshire, she gave a talk alongside her former colleague Justice David Souter about the importance of meaningful civics education in the United States. [121]

Non-profits and philanthropic activity

In February 2009, O'Connor launched Our Courts, a website she created to offer interactive civics lessons to students and teachers because she was concerned about the lack of knowledge among most young Americans about how their government works. She also serves as a co-chair with Lee H. Hamilton for the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. [122] On March 3, 2009, O'Connor appeared on the satirical television program The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote the website. In August 2009, the website added two online interactive games. [123] The initiative expanded, becoming iCivics in May 2010, and continues to offer free lessons plans, games, and interactive videogames for middle and high school educators. [124]

She served on the Board of Trustees of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, a museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution. [125] [126] By November 2015, O'Connor had transitioned to being a Trustee Emeritus for the Center. [127]

She was a member of the Junior League of Phoenix. [128]

In 2009, O'Connor founded the 501(c)3 non-profit organization now known as the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute. Its programs are dedicated to promoting civil discourse, civic engagement, and civics education. [129] [130] O'Connor serves as Founder and Advisor to the O'Connor Institute.

In April 2013, the Board of Directors of Justice at Stake, a national judicial reform advocacy organization, announced that O'Connor would be joining the organization as Honorary Chair." [131]

O'Connor is the Co-Chair of the National Advisory Board at the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD). The institute was created at the University of Arizona after the shooting of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, that killed 6 people and wounded 13 others.

Personal life

Upon her appointment to the Supreme Court, O'Connor and her husband moved to the Kalorama area of Washington, D.C. The O'Connors became active in the Washington D.C. social scene. Sandra Day O'Connor played tennis and golf in her spare time. [13] She is a baptized member of The Episcopal Church. [132]

O'Connor was successfully treated for breast cancer in 1988 (she also had her appendix removed that year). [133] That same year, John O'Connor left the Washington, D.C. law firm of Miller & Chevalier for a practice which required him to split his time between Washington, D.C. and Phoenix. [13]

Her husband suffered from Alzheimer's disease for nearly 20 years, until his death in 2009, [25] and she became involved in raising awareness of the disease. After retiring from the Court, O'Connor moved to Phoenix, Arizona. [12]

In October 2018, O'Connor announced her effective retirement from public life after disclosing that she had been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's-like dementia. [22]

Legacy and awards

See also


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  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 12, 2016. Retrieved February 20, 2016.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
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  • Greenburg, Jan Crawford (2007). Supreme Conflict: the Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court. Penguin Books.

Further reading

Additional information
Legal offices
Preceded by
Potter Stewart
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Succeeded by
Samuel Alito
Academic offices
Preceded by
Henry Kissinger
Chancellor of the College of William and Mary
Succeeded by
Robert Gates
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
John Paul Stevens
as Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Order of Precedence of the United States
as Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Succeeded by
Anthony Kennedy
as Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

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Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), is a landmark decision issued in 1973 by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of the constitutionality of laws that criminalized or restricted access to abortions. The Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion, but that this right must be balanced against the state's interests in regulating abortions: protecting women's health and protecting the potentiality of human life. Arguing that these state interests became stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy.

Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), was a decision of the United States Supreme Court that settled a recount dispute in Florida's 2000 presidential election. The ruling was issued on December 12, 2000. On December 9, the Court had preliminarily halted the Florida recount that was occurring. Eight days earlier, the Court unanimously decided the closely related case of Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. The Electoral College was scheduled to meet on December 18, 2000, to decide the election.

Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989), was a United States Supreme Court decision on upholding a Missouri law that imposed restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, assisting with, or counseling on abortions. The Supreme Court in Webster allowed for states to legislate in an aspect that had previously been thought to be forbidden under Roe v. Wade (1973).

Harriet Miers failed nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States

Harriet Ellan Miers is an American lawyer who served as White House Counsel to President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. A member of the Republican Party since 1988, she previously served as White House Staff Secretary from 2001 to 2003 and White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy from 2003 until 2005. In 2005, Miers was nominated by Bush to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, but—in the face of bipartisan opposition—asked Bush to withdraw her nomination.

George W. Bush Supreme Court candidates

Speculation abounded over potential nominations to the Supreme Court of the United States by President George W. Bush since before his presidency.

Priscilla Owen American judge

Priscilla Richman Owen is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. She was previously a Justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Edith Brown Clement American judge

Edith "Joy" Brown Clement is a Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, 546 U.S. 320 (2006), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States involving a facial challenge to New Hampshire's parental notification abortion law. The First Circuit had ruled that the law was unconstitutional and an injunction against its enforcement was proper. The Supreme Court vacated this judgment and remanded the case, but avoided a substantive ruling on the challenged law or a reconsideration of prior Supreme Court abortion precedent. Instead, the Court only addressed the issue of remedy, holding that invalidating a statute in its entirety "is not always necessary or justified, for lower courts may be able to render narrower declaratory and injunctive relief."

Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination

On October 3, 2005, Harriet Miers was nominated for Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by President George W. Bush to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Miers was, at the time, White House Counsel, and had previously served in several roles both during Bush's tenure as Governor of Texas and President.

Hodgson v. Minnesota, 497 U.S. 417 (1990), was a United States Supreme Court abortion rights case that dealt with whether a state law may require notification of both parents before a minor can obtain an abortion. The law in question provided a judicial alternative.

Roberts Court

The Roberts Court is the time since 2005 during which the Supreme Court of the United States has been led by Chief Justice John Roberts. It is generally considered more conservative than the preceding Rehnquist Court, as a result of the retirement of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the subsequent confirmation of the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito in her place.

Bruce Marshall Selya is a Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and former chief judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review who is known for his distinctive writing style.

Rehnquist Court

The Rehnquist Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1986 to 2005, when William Rehnquist served as Chief Justice of the United States. Rehnquist succeeded Warren Burger as Chief Justice after the latter's retirement, and Rehnquist served as Chief Justice until his death in 2005, at which point John Roberts was nominated and confirmed as Rehnquist's replacement. The Rehnquist Court is generally considered to be more conservative than the preceding Burger Court and Warren Court. According to Jeffrey Rosen, Rehnquist combined an amiable nature with great organizational skill, and he "led a Court that put the brakes on some of the excesses of the Earl Warren era while keeping pace with the sentiments of a majority of the country." Biographer John Jenkins argued that Rehnquist politicized the Supreme Court and moved the court and the country to the right. Through its rulings, the Rehnquist Court often promoted a policy of New Federalism in which more power was given to the states at the expense of the federal government. The Rehnquist Court was also notable for its stability, as the same nine justices served together from 1994 to 2005, the longest such stretch in Supreme Court history.

Burger Court

The Burger Court refers to the Supreme Court of the United States from 1969 to 1986, when Warren Burger served as Chief Justice of the United States. Burger succeeded Earl Warren as Chief Justice after the latter's retirement, and Burger served as Chief Justice until his retirement, at which point William Rehnquist was nominated and confirmed as Burger's replacement. The Burger Court has been described as a "transitional" court which continued the liberal legacy of the Warren Court but transitioned into the more conservative Rehnquist Court.

William Rehnquist Chief Justice of the United States

William Hubbs Rehnquist was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States for 33 years, first as an Associate Justice from 1972 to 1986, and then as the 16th Chief Justice of the United States from 1986 until his death in 2005. Considered a conservative, Rehnquist favored a conception of federalism that emphasized the Tenth Amendment's reservation of powers to the states. Under this view of federalism, the court, for the first time since the 1930s, struck down an act of Congress as exceeding its power under the Commerce Clause.

Speculation abounded over potential nominations to the Supreme Court of the United States by Ronald Reagan even before his presidency officially began, due to the advanced ages of several justices, and Reagan's own highlighting of Supreme Court nominations as a campaign issue. Reagan had promised "to appoint only those opposed to abortion and the 'judicial activism' of the Warren and Burger Courts". Conversely, some opposed to Reagan argued that he could "appoint as many as five Justices" and would "use the opportunity to stack the Court against women, minorities and social justice".

Anthony Kennedy American judge

Anthony McLeod Kennedy is an American lawyer and jurist who served as the 93rd Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1988 until his retirement in 2018. He was nominated to the court in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, and sworn in on February 18, 1988. After the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor in 2006, he was the swing vote on many of the Roberts Court's 5–4 decisions.

Clarence Thomas Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Clarence Thomas is an American judge, lawyer, and government official who currently serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He is currently the most senior associate justice on the Court following the retirement of Anthony Kennedy. Thomas succeeded Thurgood Marshall and is the second African American to serve on the Court. Among the current members of the Court he is the longest-serving justice, with a tenure of 10,054 days as of May 3, 2019.