Monday, March 8, 2010

In Honor of Women's History Month

Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman appointed to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States. Although she spent her early childhood in Southeastern Arizona, O'Connor was born in El Paso, Texas. Her parents sent her to her grandmother, Mamie Scott Wilkey, when it was time for her to go to school. Wilkey greatly influenced her as she developed through her school age years.

Having graduated, with honors, from Stanford University with a degree in economics; O'Connor stayed at Stanford for her law degree. She served as editor for the Stanford Law Review and met her husband, John O'Connor while at Stanford.

Because of the thinking of the times, it was hard for women to find work in the law field. Eventually the couple moved to north Phoenix and had three sons. Three years after the birth of their third son, O'Connor began to work in the Arizona attorney general's office. By 1969, she had been appointed to the state Senate and later was re-elected and served as the first woman to serve as a state Senate's majority leader (1973). Governor Bruce Babbitt appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to the Court of Appeals in 1979. Prior to this she had been elected a trial judge in 1974 (Maricopa County) and served in that position for 5 years.

It was in 1981 that President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to fill the seat on the Supreme Court that had been vacated by Associate Justice Potter Stewart upon his retirement. As a relative unknown, she kept her thoughts about how she would vote on several issues of interest at the time to herself, especially with regard to Row Vs Wade. Despite the reservations of the conservatives, she was confirmed by the Judiciary Committee and the U. S. Senate.

Justice O'Connor's term in the Supreme Court included a wide range of cases; but the ones involving gender discrimination and, (in 1989, in Webster vs Reproductive Health Services) an abortion rights' issue garnered the most attention to her judgeship. Her deciding vote upheld states' rights to make specific abortion decisions.

She had a reputation for lacking a sense of humor, but was regarded as a most powerful voice on compromise. Her influence was recognized nationally as she proceeded in her tough, conservative efforts to a achieve majority votes on cases. Her tough conservatism was somewhat mitigated in cases concerning women and children.

Sandra Day O'Connor announced in July of 2005 that she would retire from the Supreme Court as soon as a replacement was appointed. "Justice Samuel Alito succeeded her on January 31, 2006. In 2006 Arizona State University in Tempe honored Justice O'Connor by renaming their law school the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. John O'Connor, her husband, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 1990, and resides in an assisted living facility in Phoenix."

Other fine sources of information on Sandra Day O'Connor:

For reviews on books by and about Sandra Day O'Connor:

Sheilah Egan

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