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Sandra Day O’Connor

1930 –

“If I stumbled badly in doing the job, I think it would have made life more difficult for women, and that was a great concern of mine and still is.”

Raising the Bar

When Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart announced his plans to retire from the bench, President Ronald Reagan was given the opportunity to make good on his campaign promise to appoint the first woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. At the time, Sandra Day O’Connor, called a moderate by conservative Republicans, was gaining national recognition for the decisions she was making as a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals. 

Raised on a ranch in Arizona, O’Connor graduated third in her class at Stanford Law School and was editor of the prestigious Stanford Law Review. But when it came time to getting a job at a law firm, her sterling credentials failed her. “I interviewed with firms in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but none had ever hired a woman as a lawyer, nor were they prepared to do so.”  Instead, she chose a career in public service and became a deputy attorney in California.

After marrying a classmate and giving birth to three sons, O’Connor served as an assistant attorney general in Arizona from 1965 to1969, when she was appointed to a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. Elected Senate majority leader in 1972, she became the first woman in the nation’s history to hold that post. In 1975, she successfully ran for trial judge in Arizona, a position she held until the governor appointed her to the state court of appeals in 1979. In 1981 President Reagan made his groundbreaking appointment and after a confirmation hearing in which O’Connor refused to reveal her position on Roe v. Wade, she became the Supreme  Court’s 102nd Justice. 

O’Connor once said, “It’s thrilling, in a way, to be the first to do something, the first woman ever to serve on the Court. But it’s dreadful if you’re the last, and if I didn’t do the job well, that’s what would happen.”

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