Sandra Day was born in El Paso, Texas, on March 26, 1930. She grew up on her family’s ranch near Duncan, Arizona, where she enjoyed riding and helping with some of the chores. She and her brother, H. Alan Day, wrote Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American West about their childhood experiences on the ranch.
She graduated from Stanford University in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and returned there to go to law school.
Sandra was the Attorney General of Arizona and was later elected to the Arizona Senate. In 1974, she became a judge in the Maricopa County Superior Court. In 1979, she was selected for the Arizona Court of Appeals. In 1981, Ronald Reagan nominated her to replace Potter Stewart as Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court. Reagan had promised to appoint the first woman to the court during his 1980 presidential campaign. The Senate gave her unanimous approval.
Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve as a justice on the United States Supreme Court in 1981. She had a reputation for being firm, but just. Professor Steven Green described Justice O’Connor this way:
“She was a moderating voice on the court and was very hesitant to expand the law in either direction… She seemed to look at each case with an open mind.”
She was successfully treated for breast cancer in 1988. Because of this, people were constantly speculating about her retirement. She retired in 2006 after serving in the Supreme Court for 24 years. Samuel Alito was nominated to fill her seat on the bench. One reason for retirement was to spend more time with her husband and three sons. Sandra’s husband suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for nearly 20 years before his death in 2009. Sandra is now working to raise awareness of the disease. She is still involved in Republican politics.
In 2003, she wrote The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice. In 2005, she wrote Chico, a children’s book about her childhood. She is writing another book about the early history of the court. Justice O’Connor also founded a website called iCivics because she thinks many young Americans don’t know enough about how their government works. It has interactive civics lessons. She occasionally acts as a substitute judge in federal appellate courts when a member is absent or has not yet been replaced. In 2009, President Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States.