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Sandra Day O’Connor Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here is a look at the life of the first female justice on the United States Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor.


Birth date: March 26, 1930

Birth place: El Paso, Texas

Birth name: Sandra Day

Father: Harry A. Day, rancher

Mother: Ada Mae (Wilkey), rancher

Marriage: John Jay O’Connor III (1952-2009, his death)

Children: Scott, Brian and Jay

Education: Stanford University, B.A. in Economics, 1950, graduated magna cum laude; Stanford Law School, LL.B, 1952

Other Facts

In law school, she was on the Stanford Law Review and third in her class.

Completed law school in two years.

A proponent of judicial restraint. At her confirmation hearings, she said, “Judges are not only not authorized to engage in executive or legislative functions, they are also ill-equipped to do so.”

In retirement, O’Connor has campaigned around the United States to abolish elections for judges, believing that a merit system leads to a more qualified and untainted judiciary.


1952-1953 – County deputy attorney in San Mateo, California.

1955-1957- Works as a civilian lawyer for the Quartermaster Corps in Germany, while her husband serves with the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

1959Opens a law firm in Maryvale, Arizona.

1965-1969Assistant Attorney General of Arizona.

1969Appointed to fill a vacant seat in the Arizona Senate.

1970 – Elected to the Arizona Senate.

1972 – Reelected to the Arizona Senate and elected majority leader. She is the first woman to hold this office in any state.

1975-1979Superior Court judge of Maricopa County.

1979-1981 Judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals.

August 19, 1981 – Formally nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, to fill the seat of retiring Justice Potter Stewart.

September 21, 1981 – Confirmed by the US Senate.

September 25, 1981 – Sworn in as the first female Supreme Court justice of the United States.

1982 – Writes an opinion invalidating a women-only enrollment policy at a Mississippi State nursing school because it “tends to perpetuate the stereotyped view of nursing as an exclusively women’s job.” Mississippi University for Women, et al., v. Hogan

October 21, 1988 – Has surgery for breast cancer after being diagnosed earlier in the year.

1996 – Writes the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision to restrict affirmative action policies and voting districts that are created to boost political power of minorities. Shaw v. Reno

1999 – Writes the majority ruling opinion in the 5-4 sexual harassment ruling that public school districts that receive federal funds can be held liable when they are “deliberately indifferent” to the harassment of one student by another. Aurelia Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Ed

2000 – Votes with the majority in a 5-4 decision that strikes down state laws banning the medical procedure that critics call “partial-birth” abortion. Stenberg v. Carhart

December 2000 – Votes in the majority to end the recount in Florida which leads to George W. Bush becoming president of the United States. O’Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy are the only justices who do not attach their names to either a concurring or dissenting opinion in the case. Bush v. Gore

January 31, 2006 Retires from the Supreme Court.

2008 – Develops the website, OurCourts which later becomes iCivics, a free program for students to learn about the US court system. It allows students to investigate and argue actual cases and to participate in realistic government simulations.

July 30, 2009 – Is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

February 25, 2014 – Releases the book “Out Of Order,” which is based on the Supreme Court and its history.

October 23, 2018 – Writes a letter revealing that she has been diagnosed with the “beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease.”

March 19, 2019 – The biography, “First: Sandra Day O’Connor,” is published. Biographer Evan Thomas interviewed O’Connor and had access to her papers.

July 19, 2019 – O’Connor’s former home is listed by the National Park Service in the National Register of Historic Places. The adobe house built by O’Connor and her husband in 1958 in Paradise Valley, Arizona, was relocated to Tempe, Arizona, in 2009. It is the home of the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute.

April 13, 2022 – President Joe Biden signs a bipartisan bill into law to erect statues of O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the grounds of the US Capitol. The legislation stipulates that the statues should be placed within two years of its enactment.

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