Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, died Friday at age 93.
O’Connor was appointed to the nation’s highest court by President Ronald Reagan and served from 1981 to 2006. According to a statement from the court, she died in Phoenix of complications from advanced dementia.
Chief Justice John Roberts said that O’Connor “blazed an historic trail as our Nation’s first female Justice. She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor.”
When Reagan introduced O’Connor as his nominee, he said she was a “person for all seasons.” He nominated her as a conservative, though “she would not qualify for the right flank on today’s court,” The Washington Post wrote. She opposed eliminating the right to abortion and supported race-conscious college admissions, serving as the deciding vote in those high-profile cases. But she rejected the idea that she was a swing voter, Politico noted. “I don’t think any justice — and I hope I was not one — would swing back and forth and just try to make decisions not based on legal principles but on where you thought the direction should go,” she said.
After graduating law school, O’Connor was turned down by law firms because of her gender, before she started her own firm with her husband. As the first female justice, “her every action was scrutinized,” NBC News wrote, though her appointment led states to start putting women on their high courts. She later said in an interview that it was “thrilling” to be the first woman, adding, “But it’s dreadful if you’re the last. And if I didn’t do the job well, that’s what would happen.”