Sandra Day O'Connor Becomes First Woman on Supreme Court
By Patrick Mondout
Sandra O'Connor became the first woman to serve on the United States
Supreme Court when she took her seat on September 25, 1981. President
Reagan nominated her as his first appointee to the court on July 7th to
replace retiring justice Potter Stewart. After three days of confirmation
hearings in the Democratically-controlled Senate, which the focused on her
views on legalized abortion, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the
nomination by a vote of 17-0. A vote among the full Senate confirmed her
on September 21 by a 99-0 vote.
A Justice for the Reagan Revolutionists?
If the conservatives who swept into Washington with President Reagan
believed she would cast votes consistent with their philosophy, they would
be disappointed - particularly on abortion and social issues. Her views as
expressed by her votes and opinions might best be described as
dispassionate, somewhat conservative but moderate and pragmatic.
What her very public appointment did do for the Reagan administration
was to fulfill a campaign promise and help to mask the fact that 92% of
his federal judicial appointments in his first term were males.*
President Reagan with his
Supreme Court Justice nominee Sandra Day O'Connor
at the White House on July 15, 1981.
Image courtesy of the Ronald W.
Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was born in El Paso, Texas on
March 26, 1930 but spent her childhood at her family's 160,000 acre ranch
(the Lazy-B-Cattle Ranch) near Duncan, Arizona. You might think she lived
the charmed life on her family's huge ranch in southeastern Arizona, but
you'd be wrong. The ranch did not receive electricity or running water
until she was seven and the nearest neighbors were 25 miles away.
She enrolled in the Stanford Law School and finished 3rd out of 102 in
her class. (In case you are wondering, future Chief Justice William
Renquist finished first.) After graduating from Stanford University, where
she met her future husband John J. O'Connor, she served as Deputy County
Attorney for San Mateo (California) County in 1952-53. She served as
Assistant Attorney General of Arizona from 1965 until 1969, when she was
appointed to a seat on the Arizona State Senate. After twice winning
reelection and becoming majority leader of the senate, she was elected a
judge of the Maricopa County (Arizona) Superior Court where she served
until 1979, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals.
* From a 1985 study by Sheldon Goldman of the University