On July 7, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. Her appointment was unanimously approved by the Senate and she was sworn in on September 25, 1981.
Sandra Day O’Connor, Supreme Court Justice
Born: March 26, 1930 in El Paso, TX
Sandra Day O’Connor graduated from Stanford Law School near the top of her class in 1952. (She married classmate John Jay O’Connor III that same year.) No law firm she applied to would hire her for a suitable position because she was a woman, so she turned to the public sector and became a deputy county attorney in California. In 1953, her husband was drafted into the Army as a judge and they lived in West Germany, where Sandra worked as a civilian lawyer for the Army.
After returning to the United States, the O’Connors had three children and settled in Phoenix, Arizona. She continued her law career and branched into politics when she became the first woman in the United States to be a majority leader in a state senate in the early seventies. In 1979, she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals by the governor. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Supreme Court.
While she served on the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor faced important decisions in cases involving abortion laws, campaign financing, affirmative action, and environmental issues, to name just a few.
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I had just finished Kindergarten when Justice O’Connor was appointed, but I remember hearing all the news stories about it and I knew it meant something special. Why wouldn’t they appoint a woman? I wondered. After all, I was wearing a tee-shirt that proudly declared “Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” Now my own daughters have never known a time when there wasn’t a woman Supreme Court Justice. I hope that they see more strides towards equality made in their lifetimes.
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