The American Bar Association is deeply saddened by the death of Sandra Day O’Connor and offers our deepest condolences to her family and friends around the world. O’Connor was a historic trailblazer, becoming the first woman on the United States Supreme Court, but her legacy goes far beyond that achievement. In addition to her many accomplishments, O’Connor was a great friend to the American Bar Association in which she remained active, after her retirement from the high court, working as a tireless advocate for judicial independence and the Rule of Law throughout the world until her illness forced her to retire from public life in 2018.
O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, and served from 1981 until 2006, writing 645 opinions including the principal opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992 which reaffirmed the core holding of Roe v. Wade. In 2004, she wrote the opinion in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, a case rejecting George W. Bush’s claim that the government could hold detainees without due process in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. She also sided with the majority of the Court in supporting affirmative action in college admissions.
After graduating from Stanford Law third in her class in 1952, she could not get a job as a lawyer, being only offered positions as a legal secretary so she started her own firm. In 1969, she was appointed to the Arizona Senate, serving three terms and becoming the first female majority leader in the United States for the Arizona Senate in 1973. President Barack Obama awarded O’Connor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her role in transforming the American judiciary. Today, four of the nine Supreme Court justices are women.
The ABA is gratified O’Connor was involved in its programs throughout her career. She was a board member for the ABA Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative, received the Margaret Brent Award in 2000 and served as a panelist decrying cuts in judicial funding at the ABA Annual Meeting in Toronto in 2011.
While the nation has lost a legal giant and pioneer, the American Bar Association joins the rest of the world in celebrating O’Connor’s well-lived life and important legacy.