Sandra Day O’Connor, First Woman on US Supreme Court, Dies at 93

O’Connor was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981 and retired in 2006

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Sandra Day O’Connor, the retired Supreme Court justice who was the first woman on the nation’s highest court, has died, the court announced Friday. She was 93.

O’Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981; she retired in 2006. The Supreme Court said she died Friday in Phoenix of complications from dementia and a respiratory illness. She announced in 2018 that she was in the early stages of what was likely Alzheimer’s, which took her husband John’s life in 2009.

Reagan’s nomination and subsequent Senate confirmation made O’Connor the first woman after 191 years of exclusively male justices. Raised on a remote Arizona ranch established by her grandfather, O’Connor swiftly became known for toughness and work ethic while serving on the bench.

The moderate conservative stood as a bulwark against massive pressure in 1989 to reverse Roe v. Wade, declining to join four justices who were prepared to allow states to outlaw abortions. A few years later, she would hold together a five-justice majority that would uphold the decision that stood from 1973 until last year.

O’Connor sided with the court’s conservative bloc on most occasions, but was known to sway to the other side from time to time, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Before her appointment, O’Connor was a judge and elected official in Arizona, and served as the state’s first female senate majority leader as a Republican. While George W. Bush was president in 2005, she announced her intention to retire when a successor was confirmed – which turned out to be Samuel Alito, who has served since the last day of 2006.


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