Sandra Day O'Connor Honored as Role Model

First woman on Supreme Court understood Americans, Sotomayor says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 18, 2023 6:45 PM CST
Sandra Day O'Connor Honored as Role Model
Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito attend a private ceremony for retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on Monday at the Supreme Court.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court, was remembered Monday as a trailblazer who never lost sight of how the high court's decisions affected all Americans. O'Connor, an Arizona native who was an unwavering voice of moderate conservatism for more than two decades, died Dec. 1 at age 93. Mourners at the court on Monday included Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to serve in her role, and her husband, Doug Emhoff, the AP reports. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke at a private ceremony that included the nine justices and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, as well as O'Connor's family and court colleagues.

"She would often say, 'It was good to be the first, but I don't want to be the last,'" Sotomayor said of O'Connor's distinction as the court's first woman. She lived to see four women on the court. "For the four us, and for so many others of every background and aspiration, Sandra was a living example that women could take on any challenge, could more than hold their own in any spaces dominated by men and could do so with grace," Sotomayor said. O'Connor's body lay in repose after her casket was carried up the court steps with her seven grandchildren serving as honorary pallbearers. It passed under the iconic words engraved on the pediment, "Equal Justice Under Law," before being placed in the court's Great Hall for the public to pay their respects.

Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday at Washington National Cathedral, where President Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts are scheduled to speak. O'Connor was nominated in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed by the Senate, ending 191 years of male exclusivity on the high court. A rancher's daughter who was largely unknown on the national scene until her appointment, she received more letters than any other member in the court's history in her first year and would come to be referred to by commentators as the nation's most powerful woman. O'Connor had "an extraordinary understanding of the American people," Sotomayor said.

(More Sandra Day O'Connor stories.)

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