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December 01, 2023

ABA Center for Global Programs Pays Tribute to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

The American Bar Association’s Center for Global Programs was saddened to learn of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s passing. Justice O'Connor was a trailblazer and an inspiration, leaving an indelible mark on the American legal landscape and on the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI).  As the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, ABA ROLI was honored and privileged to have her as a longstanding member of its Board.

Justice O'Connor's journey to the pinnacle of the legal profession was marked by intelligence, resilience, and a commitment to justice. After graduating from Stanford Law School, she faced the gender-based barriers prevalent in the legal profession at the time. Undeterred, she embarked on a path that would eventually reshape the face of the Supreme Court.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, a historic appointment that shattered the gender barrier in the highest echelons of the judiciary. Throughout her 24-year tenure on the Court, Justice O'Connor approached her responsibilities with a keen legal mind, a dedication to moderation, and a commitment to upholding the Constitution.

Her jurisprudence was marked by a pragmatic approach, often seeking to find common ground and build consensus among her colleagues. Justice O'Connor was a pivotal swing vote on many landmark cases. Her nuanced opinions reflected a deep understanding of the complexities of the law and an unwavering commitment to fairness. 

Her service with ABA ROLI came at a critical time for the advancement of the rule of law around the world.  As Scott Carlson, the ABA’s current Associate Executive Director, recalls, “With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Justice O’Connor understood that we had arrived at a turning point in history. Sitting with her at lunch in Eastern Europe during the early 1990s, she shared in plain, down-to-earth terms her passion for expanding the reach of rule of law, inspiring myself and others to devote our lives to that pursuit. Though her ‘day job’ kept her quite busy, Justice O’Connor always found time to support ABA ROLI.  We will forever be in her debt for her kindness, fellowship, and leadership.” Just as she inspired numerous American lawyers, Justice O’Connor touched the lives of countless lawyers and judges around the world.

Beyond her legal legacy in the US and around the world, Sandra Day O'Connor remains a symbol of empowerment for women and a beacon of hope for those aspiring to break barriers in any field. Her pioneering spirit paved the way for future generations of women to pursue careers in law and public service.