Sandra Day O’Connor is a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, who served from her appointment in 1981 by Ronald Reagan until her retirement in 2006. She is the first woman to serve on the Court.
Prior to O’Connor’s tenure on the Court, she was an elected official and judge in Arizona serving as the first female Majority Leader of a state senate as the Republican leader in the Arizona Senate. Upon her nomination to the Court, O’Connor was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. On July 1, 2005, she announced her intention to retire effective upon the confirmation of a successor. Samuel Alito was nominated to take her seat in October 2005, and joined the Court on January 31, 2006.
Considered a federalist and a moderate Republican, O’Connor tended to approach each case narrowly without arguing for sweeping precedents. She most frequently sided with the Court’s conservative bloc, although in the latter years of her tenure, she was regarded as having the swing opinion in many cases. She often wrote concurring opinions that limited the reach of the majority holding. Her majority opinions in landmark cases include Grutter v. Bollinger and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. She also wrote in part the per curiam majority opinion in Bush v. Gore, and was one of three co-authors of the lead opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
From 2005 to 2012, O’Connor was Chancellor of The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. Several publications have named her among the most powerful women in the world. On August 12, 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States, by President Barack Obama.
In October 2018, O’Connor announced her effective retirement from public life after disclosing that she had been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s-like dementia.
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