National Archives News

In Memoriam: Sandra Day O'Connor (1930–2023)

By National Archives News Staff

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2023 – Retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sandra Day O'Connor died today at the age of 93.

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Sandra Day O'Connor being sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice Warren Burger as her husband John O'Connor looks on, September 25, 1981. (NAID 276563289)

In 1981, O’Connor was sworn in to the Supreme Court, the first woman to be appointed since its creation in 1789. President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor after making a campaign promise to have a woman on the nation’s highest court. The Senate unanimously confirmed O’Connor.

At the time of her nomination, the 51-year-old O'Connor was a judge in the Arizona Court of Appeals and had a distinguished career to her credit. She had served as Arizona's Assistant Attorney General in the Arizona Senate, where she was the first female state Senate majority leader in the country, and as a judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court.

O’Connor was the lone female Supreme Court Justice for most of her tenure, until Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined her in 1993. However, O’Connor did not want her gender to be a confining factor of her identity as a strong and effective Justice. “The power I exert on the court depends on the power of my arguments, not on my gender,” Sandra Day O’Connor famously said.

After serving 24 years as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, she resigned in 2005 to spend more time with her husband, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

O’Conner inspired a generation of women to pursue careers in law. When she was appointed to the Supreme Court, 36 percent of law school students were women; by the time she retired from the court, that percentage had risen to 48 percent.


View more National Archives resources related to Justice O'Connor:

First Woman on the Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, Pieces of History, August 17, 2018

President Ronald Reagan's Nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, August 19, 1981

Evan Thomas, author of First: Sandra Day O’Connor, An American Life, an author lecture at the National Archives, April 24, 2019

A Conversation with Justices Souter and O'Connor, a Kennedy Library Forum, December 13, 2010