The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, O’Connor was a moderate justice who sometimes sided with the more conservative and sometimes with the more liberal justices, depending on specific issues.
Born Sandra Day, O’Connor grew up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Arizona. She described her early experiences of living in a desert environment and having contacts with cowboys in a popular book, Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest (2003). At the age of sixteen she gained admission to Stanford University, where she earned both her undergraduate and law degrees. While at Stanford’s law school, she had a few dates with future chief justice William H. Rehnquist
Sandra Day O'Connor.
Although O’Connor graduated third in her law school class of 102, she was unable to find a position in a law firm because of discrimination against women in the legal professions. She soon realized that private law firms at that time did not hire women lawyers, so she began to work for the government, which did not discriminate overtly against women. She first served as a prosecutor in San Mateo County, California, just north of Stanford University, and then moved with her husband, John O’Connor, to Frankfurt, Germany, where he served as a lawyer in the U.S. Army. While in Frankfurt, O’Connor herself served as a civilian lawyer for the U.S. Army. After her husband completed his military service, the couple moved to Phoenix, Arizona. While He worked for a Phoenix law firm, she created a new law firm with another woman lawyer.
O’Connor became active in Republican politics and was appointed as an assistant attorney general in Arizona in 1965. She was the first woman to serve in that post. In 1969, she was appointed to a vacancy in the Arizona state senate, and in 1973 and 1974 she was the first woman to serve as a majority leader in that legislative body. In November, 1974, she was elected to the Maricopa County superior court.
Four years later, a Democratic governor appointed O’Connor to the Arizona court of appeals. Although she was a Republican, she was well respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. During the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan
Although appointed by a president seeking to advance a conservative agenda, Justice O’Connor never favored a rigidly conservative interpretation of the Constitution. Sometimes she sided with more liberal justices, such as Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and sometimes she sided with more conservative justices, such as Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia. Her positions depended on the specific cases before the Court. Rather than voting on the basis of an overall ideology, she attempted to make decisions based on pragmatic case-by-case analyses of issues. Journalists coined the term “o’connorize” to describe her approach. During her first decade on the Court, she tended to be on the same side as the conservatives. However, with the departure of the last liberals of the Warren Court, she increasingly found herself agreeing with the more liberal justices.
Because she was a centrist often searching for a compromise, O’Connor was frequently the swing vote in controversial cases that were decided by 5-4 majorities. For this reason, especially during the last fifteen years of her tenure, some observers said that she was the most influential person in the United States.
In the matter of states’ rights
In the opinion for the Court in Tafflin v. Levitt
When she was first appointed by President Reagan, O’Connor was apparently in favor of overturning the right to abortion
In cases dealing with the establishment clause, O’Connor often sought a middle position. In Lynch v. Donnelly
O’Connor helped shape constitutional law in affirmative action
O’Connor also provided the swing vote in several cases dealing with gay
On July 19, 2005, Justice O’Connor announced her retirement from the Court, primarily in order to care for her sick husband. She received much praise from both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, and many people expressed the desire that she should reconsider. President George W. Bush
Biskupic, Joan. Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Member. New York: ECCO, 2005. Hensley, Thomas R. The Rehnquist Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2006. Huber, Peter W. Sandra Day O’Connor: Supreme Court Justice. New York: Chelsea House, 1990. McFeatters, Ann Carey. Sandra Day O’Connor: Justice in the Balance. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. Maveety, Nancy. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: Strategist on the Supreme Court. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996. O’Connor, Sandra Day. The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice. New York: Random House, 2004. O’Connor, Sandra Day. The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice. New York: Random House, 2003. Zelnick, Robert. Swing Dance: Justice O’Connor and the Michigan Muddle. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 2004.
Alito, Samuel A., Jr.
Gratz v. Bollinger/Grutter v. Bollinger
Lawrence v. Texas
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey
Rehnquist, William H.
Religion, establishment of
Resignation and retirement
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services