Sandra Day O'Connor

Retired Justice of the Supreme Court

Phoenix, Arizona

The first woman to the United States Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, was born in El Paso, Texas, on March 26, 1930. After spending part of her childhood on her family's ranch she eventually ended up at Stanford University. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Economics in 1950 and two years later she obtained her law degree. She married John O'Connor and the couple moved to Germany. He was serving as an attorney in the United States Army. She worked as a civilian attorney. From 1957 to 1962 O'Connor gave birth to three sons and spent time at home raising them. While her sons were small O'Connor started taking and active role in local Republican politics.

O'Connor went on to serve two terms in the Arizona state senate. This was the first time any woman in the United States had held this position. She left the senate in 1974 to become a county judge in the Maricopa County Superior Court. Then in 1979, she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. She was nominated by Ronald Reagan for the Supreme Court in 1981. After unanimous senate approval, she was seated on the Supreme Court as the first woman justice. She was a key swing vote in many cases including upholding Roe v. Wade. During her time in the Supreme Court, O'Connor has ruled against discrimination based on gender.

O'Connor was the founder of Arizona women Lawyers Association and the National Association of Women Judges. She also fought to end discrimination in the Arizona Bar Association. Despite rumors in 2001, that she was retiring, O'Connor continues to be an influential part of the Supreme Court. She has spoken about the death penalty and how many more people are sentenced to the death penalty after having a court-appointed attorney. She talked about how old cases were overturned when DNA evidence is uncovered. However, she has upheld the death penalty in her Supreme Court rulings. She co-authored her memoirs with her brother in 2002. The book gives some insight into her early life on the Lazy B Ranch. She writes of how these experiences shaped her life and her views and influenced her career.

(By Biopage writers. Photo credit Library of Congress and WOSU Public Media. Please contact Biopage for inaccuracy)

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From her early years on the Lazy B ranch in Arizona to her role as the first woman on the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor has personified the American pioneer. She secured a central role on the court by blending determination with a politician's skill at bringing people together. Yet she will claim that her most important work began when she stepped down, in 2006. Sandra wanted to make civic education relevant to young people, and she knew that in order to engage them, she had to make it fun. And so in 2009 she founded iCivics, a nonprofit that uses video games to teach middle and high school students how America's democracy works. Once again, Sandra became a pioneer. Under her leadership, iCivics has grown into America's largest civic-learning provider; more than 5 million students played its games this past school year. Today there could not be more pressing work. As Sandra has famously noted, "The practice of democracy is not transferred through the gene pool. It must be taught and learned anew by each generation of citizens." (By Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo credit Kevin Wolf AP)

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