Who is Sandra Day O'Connor?

By CNN Library

Published October 23, 2018

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Here is a look at the life of the first female justice of the US Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor.

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She was born March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas, to Harry and Ada Mae Day, who were ranchers.

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She studied at Stanford University, where she earned a magna cum laude B.A. in economics in 1950. At Stanford law school, she was on the law review and graduated third in the 1952 class.

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She married John Jay O'Connor III in 1952, too. They were married until his death in 2009. They had three children, Scott, Brian and Jay.

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Early in her career, O'Connor worked as a county deputy attorney and a civilian lawyer for the US Army. By 1959, she'd opened a law firm in Maryvale, Arizona.

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In the 1960s, she was Assistant Attorney General of Arizona and in the Airzona Senate. By 1972, she was majority leader in the state senate -- the first woman to have the position in any state. Stock Photo

O'Connor spent the late 1970s as a judge in Arizona, including the state court of appeals.

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In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated her, and the US Senate confirmed her, to the Supreme Court to fill the seat of retiring Justice Potter Stewart.

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On the court, O'Connor was part of several particularly notable decisions.

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In 1982, she wrote an opinion in Mississippi University for Women, et al., v. Hogan, invalidating a women-only enrollment policy at a nursing school because it "tends to perpetuate the stereotyped view of nursing as an exclusively women's job."

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In 1996, she wrote the majority opinion in Shaw v. Reno, a 5-4 decision to restrict affirmative action policies and voting districts that are created to boost political power of minorities.

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In 1999, she wrote the majority ruling opinion in the Aurelia Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Ed 5-4 sexual harassment ruling that public school districts that receive federal funds can be held liable when they are "deliberately indifferent" to the harassment of one student by another.

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She also voted with the majority in Stenberg v. Carhart, a 5-4 decision that strikes down state laws banning the medical procedure that critics call "partial-birth" abortion.

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On January 31, 2006, O'Connor retired from the Supreme Court.


In retirement, she has received many honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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She released the book "Out Of Order," which is based on the Supreme Court and its history, in 2014.

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On October 23, 2018, O'Connor announced that she had been diagnosed with dementia.

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