December 01, 2023

In Memoriam: Sandra Day O'Connor (1930-2023)

With profound sadness, we announce the passing of a trailblazer and legal luminary, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, on December 1, 2023. The first woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice in the United States, Justice O'Connor leaves behind a legacy that forever altered the landscape of American jurisprudence.

Born on March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas, Sandra Day O'Connor grew up on a ranch near Duncan, Arizona. Her early life was marked by a tenacious spirit and a keen intellect that would eventually propel her to the pinnacle of the legal profession.

Justice O'Connor's journey to the Supreme Court was one of unparalleled achievement. After earning her law degree from Stanford University in 1952, she faced significant gender-based challenges in a legal world dominated by men. Undeterred, she forged ahead, eventually building a distinguished private practice and public service career.

In 1981, history was made when President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, breaking barriers and shattering the glass ceiling for women in the legal profession. Throughout her tenure on the bench, from 1981 to 2006, Justice O'Connor brought a sharp legal mind, unwavering dedication to justice, and a commitment to the principles that underpin the United States Constitution.

Known for her pragmatic approach, Justice O'Connor became a crucial swing vote on the Court, influencing decisions that shaped the nation's legal landscape. Her opinions, often marked by a deep respect for precedent and a commitment to moderation, reflected a nuanced understanding of the complexities inherent in the law.

Beyond her jurisprudential achievements, Sandra Day O'Connor will be remembered for her advocacy of civic education and her tireless efforts to promote judicial independence. Her commitment to public service extended beyond retirement as she continued to contribute to legal scholarship and education.

In remembering Justice O’Connor, what comes to mind is her remarkable ability to work with both liberal and conservative colleagues, a skill that is sorely missing today.  I sincerely hope those currently serving on the court will remember her commitment to seeking common ground. 

As the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor brought a unique perspective to her role. It’s worth noting that collaboration and finding common ground,  a hallmark of her distinguished career, are often noted as quintessential strengths of women leaders. 

In honoring her memory, let us acknowledge not only her legal acumen but also celebrate her “superpower” as a woman, her ability to collaborate, find consensus and bridge ideological divides for the good of the nation.

 - Ann Hesse, Global Women's Caucus Chair.


Justice O'Connor's impact on the United States and its legal system is immeasurable. She leaves behind a legacy of resilience, brilliance, and a trail of shattered barriers that have paved the way for countless women in the legal profession.

The legal community mourns Sandra Day O'Connor's passing, and our nation is grateful for her pioneering spirit and enduring contributions. Her memory will forever be enshrined in the annals of American history, and her legacy will continue to inspire generations to come.