First Woman of Supreme Court Honored After Death as ‘American Pioneer’ At Funeral

( – President Joe Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts honored retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor during her state funeral ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday, December 19. O’Connor died at 91 on December 1 in Phoenix, Arizona, after decades of service to the nation. Biden declared her an “American Pioneer” for her achievements, including becoming the first woman on the High Court.

A Pioneer Spirit

O’Connor was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1930 to ranchers. She spent her early childhood on the family’s Lazy B ranch, a New Mexico property that straddled the Texas border, without electricity or indoor plumbing. She said she learned independence and self-reliance from growing up on the ranch, and her experiences helped shape her conservative ideals.

After completing high school by 16, she took a degree in economics from Stanford University by 20. Following the advice of a professor, she continued at Stanford, earning a law degree by 1952 when she was 22. She also met her husband, John O’Connor, while attending Stanford Law, and the two married in December 1952 at the Lazy B Ranch.

Even with high marks from an impressive school, law firms refused to hire women. O’Connor blazed her own path, part of the “get it done” mantra that would serve her all her life. She worked pro bono for the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office to gain experience as a lawyer. It was an offer the DA couldn’t refuse.

O’Conner became unstoppable. After starting a family, she became involved in local politics in Phoenix for the Republican Party, earning notice and helping her network.

  • 1965 through 1969: Gov. Paul Fannin (R) appointed her Assistant Attorney General.
  • 1969 through 1974: Gov. Jack Williams (R) appointed her to a vacant Arizona State Senate seat. She won reelection to the senate, and in 1973, she became the first woman to serve in any State legislature as the Senate Majority Leader.
  • 1974 through 1979: She accepted an appointment to the Maricopa County Superior Court from Gov. Williams.
  • 1979 through 1981: Gov. Bruce Babbitt (D) elevated her to the Arizona Court of Appeals
  • 1981 through 2006: President Ronald Reagan (R) nominated her to the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed her 99 to 0, making her the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Notable SCOTUS Decisions

As a moderate conservative, O’Connor often became the swing vote on controversial decisions. Some of her most significant decisions included Planned Parenthood v Casey, upholding abortion rights; New York v United States, defended states’ rights by prohibiting the federal government from forcing states to take ownership of radioactive waste; Bush v Gore, settled the Florida election count debacle and finalized the 2000 presidential election, ending Gore’s quest for the presidency; Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, declared that the military detention of enemy combatants is legal even if they are US citizens.

O’Connor authored 676 opinions in her SCOTUS career, including 301 official Court opinions.

The historic judge leaves behind her three sons, Scott, Brian, Jay, her brother Alan, and six grandchildren. She will join her husband, John, who preceded her in death, at the Lazy B Ranch, where her family will bury her.

~Here’s to Our Liberty!

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