Sandra Day O’Connor, pathbreaking woman on Supreme Court, dies at 93

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Sandra Day O’Connor, pathbreaking woman on Supreme Court, dies at 93

The court’s first female justice was known for her independence on the bench

By Fred Barbash

December 1, 2023 at 10:05 a.m. EST


22 min


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Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice, whose independence on a court that was often ideologically divided made her the pivotal vote in numerous closely contested cases and one of the most powerful women of her era, died Dec. 1 in Phoenix. She was 93.

The cause was complications from advanced dementia — probably Alzheimer’s disease — and a respiratory illness, according to an announcement by the court. Justice O’Connor had said in 2018 that she had dementia and was exiting public life.

In her nearly quarter-century as a justice, from her swearing-in on Sept. 25, 1981, after being appointed by President Ronald Reagan, to her retirement on Jan. 31, 2006, to care for her husband, who had Alzheimer’s, Justice O’Connor tried to avoid what she called “giant steps you’ll live to regret.”

She rejected the idea of eliminating the right to abortion, for example, in part because “an entire generation has come of age” relying on it. She co-wrote the principal opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), setting a new standard for judging abortion cases but reaffirming the core holding of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.

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