Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman Supreme Court Justice, died Friday at age 93.
According to a Supreme Court statement, the cause of death was “complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, and a respiratory illness.”
A Reagan appointee, O’Connor’s nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 15, 1981 by a unanimous vote of 99-0. Four days later, she took her seat on the Supreme Court bench.
The Supreme Court “is the body to which all Americans look for the ultimate protection of their rights. It is to the U.S. Supreme Court that we all turn when we seek that which we want most from our Government: equal justice under the law,” O’Connor said in her opening statement during the Senate nomination hearings earlier that same month.
Seven years after coming to the Court, she underwent surgery for breast cancer—returning to the bench just 10 days after. Years later, she said the disease “fostered a desire in me to make each and every day a good day.”
O’Connor spent 25 years on the Court, emerging as one of the more moderate Justices of the time.
She retired from the Supreme Court in 2006, and three years later she founded the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute to advance civil discourse, civic engagement, and civics education.
That same year, 2009, her husband John Jay O’Connor III, whom she’d married in 1952, passed away.
Born in El Paso, Texas, O’Connor was raised on a cattle ranch near Duncan, Arizona. She graduated at the top of her class from Stanford Law School in 1952.
During a commencement speech that she gave at Stanford in 2004, O’Connor reflected on her appointment by President Reagan, saying, “His decision was as much a surprise to me as it was to the nation as a whole. But Ronald Reagan knew that his decision wasn’t about Sandra Day O’Connor; it was about women everywhere. It was about a nation that was on its way to bridging a chasm between genders that had divided us for too long.”
Sandra Day O’Connor is survived by three sons, Scott, Brian and Jay O’Connor.