Sandra Day O’Connor was born in 1930 in El Paso, Texas . She spent much of her childhood on a family ranch in Arizona , where she rode horses and helped herd cattle. O’Connor graduated from high school at the age of sixteen and entered Stanford University to study economics and law. There she met her husband, John Jay O’Connor, whom she married shortly after her graduation in 1952.
O’Connor turned to work in government when she realized law firms were hesitant to hire female attorneys. She began work as a deputy attorney for San Mateo County in California and then followed her husband to Frankfurt, West Germany, where she worked as a civilian quartermaster corps attorney. When their stint abroad was over, the couple moved to Phoenix, Arizona. They eventually had three sons. O’Connor did not work full time while raising her children, but she reentered the work force as the state's assistant attorney general in 1965. She kept that position for four years.
O’Connor's career centered around state government until she was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981. Before that, she served in various capacities, including Arizona state senator. O’Connor earned a reputation as hard working, fair, tough, and thoughtful. She was in favor of the death penalty, limited government spending, and access to abortion. She was the first woman to serve as a state senate majority leader in the United States.
In 1974, O’Connor ran for Superior Court judge of Arizona's Maricopa County and won. Five years later, she was appointed to the state court of appeals. In this position, she gained national attention by expressing her judicial philosophy: If state courts have already given a matter full and fair treatment, federal judges should refuse to intervene or hear appeals. She published her thoughts in an article in the Summer 1981 issue of William and Mary Law Review. The article communicated clearly O’Connor's belief in states’ rights.
O’Connor was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; served 1981–89) chose her because of her mostly conservative views and her ability to gain public and congressional support. At first, feminists supported her for what they believed were her pro-women stances on various issues. But by her second year on the Court, feminists were not as supportive of O’Connor. Although she refused to support the prohibition of abortions, she did uphold a series of laws curbing women's access to legal abortion.
O’Connor retired in 2006 after serving twenty-four years as a Supreme Court judge. Later that year, she was listed among “America's Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The Boston Globe (Boston, MA); May 9, 2013
The Boston Globe (Boston, MA); December 13, 2012
Daily Mail (London); December 7, 2007
Webster's NewWorld Dictionary; January 1, 1988
The Washington Post; May 2, 1987
Politics & Government Week; March 4, 2010
Politics & Government Week; September 16, 2010
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