Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, has died at age 93

Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Associated Press

Dec 1, 2023, 3:14 PM

Updated 233 days ago

Share:

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, an unwavering voice of moderate conservatism and the first woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, has died. She was 93.
The court says she died in Phoenix on Friday, of complications related to advanced dementia and a respiratory illness.
In 2018, she announced that she had been diagnosed with “the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease.” Her husband, John O’Connor, died of complications of Alzheimer’s in 2009.
O’Connor’s nomination in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and subsequent confirmation by the Senate ended 191 years of male exclusivity on the high court. A native of Arizona who grew up on her family’s sprawling ranch, O’Connor wasted little time building a reputation as a hard worker who wielded considerable political clout on the nine-member court.
The granddaughter of a pioneer who traveled west from Vermont and founded the family ranch some three decades before Arizona became a state, O’Connor had a tenacious, independent spirit that came naturally. As a child growing up in the remote outback, she learned early to ride horses, round up cattle and drive trucks and tractors.
“I didn’t do all the things the boys did,” she said in a 1981 Time magazine interview, “but I fixed windmills and repaired fences.”
On the bench, her influence could best be seen, and her legal thinking most closely scrutinized, in the court’s rulings on abortion, perhaps the most contentious and divisive issue the justices faced. O’Connor balked at letting states outlaw most abortions, refusing in 1989 to join four other justices who were ready to reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that said women have a constitutional right to abortion.
Then, in 1992, she helped forge and lead a five-justice majority that reaffirmed the core holding of the 1973 ruling. “Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that can’t control our decision," O’Connor said in court, reading a summary of the decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. “Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.”
Thirty years after that decision, a more conservative court did overturn Roe and Casey, and the opinion was written by the man who took her high court seat, Justice Samuel Alito. He joined the court upon O’Connor’s retirement in 2006, chosen by President George W. Bush.
In 2000, O’Connor was part of the 5-4 majority that effectively resolved the disputed 2000 presidential election in favor of Bush, over Democrat Al Gore.
O’Connor was regarded with great fondness by many of her colleagues. When she retired, Justice Clarence Thomas, a consistent conservative, called her “an outstanding colleague, civil in dissent and gracious when in the majority.”
She could, nonetheless, express her views tartly. In one of her final actions as a justice, a dissent to a 5-4 ruling to allow local governments to condemn and seize personal property to allow private developers to build shopping plazas, office buildings and other facilities, she warned the majority had unwisely ceded yet more power to the powerful. “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property,” O’Connor wrote. “Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing ... any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”
O’Connor, whom commentators had once called the nation’s most powerful woman, remained the court’s only woman until 1993, when, much to O’Connor’s delight and relief, President Bill Clinton nominated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The current court includes a record four women.


More from News 12
President Biden announces end of 2024 bid for presidency; endorses VP Kamala Harris for pick

President Biden announces end of 2024 bid for presidency; endorses VP Kamala Harris for pick

2:13
Sun and clouds, mild temps for Monday in the Hudson Valley

Sun and clouds, mild temps for Monday in the Hudson Valley

Gov. Hochul endorses VP Kamala Harris for president after Biden ends reelection bid

Gov. Hochul endorses VP Kamala Harris for president after Biden ends reelection bid

2:08
National and local lawmakers stunned by Biden's decision not to seek reelection

National and local lawmakers stunned by Biden's decision not to seek reelection

Officials release statements following President Biden's decision to end reelection bid

Officials release statements following President Biden's decision to end reelection bid

2:01
Biden dropped out. What's next?

Biden dropped out. What's next?

1:57
Voters in White Plains shocked on Biden's decision to end reelection bid

Voters in White Plains shocked on Biden's decision to end reelection bid

1:33
Voters curious about political landscape amid Biden’s decision to drop reelection bid

Voters curious about political landscape amid Biden’s decision to drop reelection bid

2:04
How Biden stepping aside in presidential run could impact voters in the Hudson Valley

How Biden stepping aside in presidential run could impact voters in the Hudson Valley

1:14
Yonkers residents feel mixed about Biden's decision to end presidential bid

Yonkers residents feel mixed about Biden's decision to end presidential bid

1:53
Westchester Democratic chair discusses impact of Biden's decision to drop out of 2024 race

Westchester Democratic chair discusses impact of Biden's decision to drop out of 2024 race

0:59
Sen. Shelley Mayer partners with young volunteers to cleanup Port Chester

Sen. Shelley Mayer partners with young volunteers to cleanup Port Chester

Freedom Fest event honors veterans in Orange County

Freedom Fest event honors veterans in Orange County

0:30
Police: 2 arrested for stealing $10,000 worth of gardening supplies from Mamaroneck store

Police: 2 arrested for stealing $10,000 worth of gardening supplies from Mamaroneck store

0:34
Over 1,600 U.S. flights canceled Saturday due to global technology outage

Over 1,600 U.S. flights canceled Saturday due to global technology outage

1:30
Officials: Calls to 988 have increased since its creation 2 years ago

Officials: Calls to 988 have increased since its creation 2 years ago

2:02
Family, friends memorialize former Westchester County legislator Herman Keith

Family, friends memorialize former Westchester County legislator Herman Keith

1:51
Community barbecue in White Plains spreads positivity, honors late residents

Community barbecue in White Plains spreads positivity, honors late residents

1:14
Yonkers recognizes National Park and Recreation Month

Yonkers recognizes National Park and Recreation Month

1:51
Police: Toddler hit by car in Rockland County, left critically injured

Police: Toddler hit by car in Rockland County, left critically injured