Published on: Friday, December 1, 2023

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the high court, died Friday at age 93 (article available here).

O’Connor, who retired in 2006 after 25 years on the court, died in Phoenix of complications related to advanced dementia and a respiratory illness, the court said in an announcement.

Elected to the state Senate, she quickly rose in Republican ranks to become the majority leader, and then was appointed a state trial judge and a state appellate court judge. By 1981, and with the retirement of Justice Potter Stewart, President Ronald Reagan had a Supreme Court vacancy to fill.

O'Connor served on the court and retired in 2006.

While on the court, O'Connor was called "the most powerful woman in America." Because of her position at the center of a court that was so closely divided on so many major questions, she often cast the deciding vote in cases involving abortion, affirmative action, national security, campaign finance reform, separation of church and state, and states' rights, as well as in the case that decided the 2000 election, a decision she later hinted she regretted.

After an active post-court career – including serving as chancellor of the College of William & Mary in Virginia – O’Connor largely remained out of public view after announcing her dementia diagnosis in 2018. 

“I’ve often said it’s wonderful to be the first to do something, but I didn’t want to be the last,” she told C-SPAN.

Today, four women serve on the nation's highest court.