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Sandra Day O'Connor, First Female Justice Passed Away



Please note that this article is intended to provide factual coverage of events and is NOT intended to express political opinion. Any and all opinions that may be implied do not represent the official stances of the Poudre Press, Poudre School District, or Poudre High School.





On December 1st 2023, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first ever female justice on the Supreme Court passed away. While often a neglected part of government in the eyes of the public, the Supreme Court remains one of the most important functions of the United States government. The 9 justices have the final say, and therefore an immense power over the interpretation of all the laws of the United States. Mrs. O’Connor had a great impact on American law and will be remembered as an important person in American history.


Despite having graduated as the 3rd highest member of her class at Stanford law, the future Justice struggled to find opportunities for employment, and subsequently settled working for free for the San Mateo county attorney. Several years later O’Connor and her husband John Jay settled in Arizona working as a private attorney. In 1969 she was appointed to and later elected to the Arizona state Senate as a Republican, where she would later serve as the first female majority leader in any state Senate. 


Justice O’Connor was appointed to the court in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan and  was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to replace retiring Justice Potter Stewart. O’Connor has been regarded as a “moderate conservative” justice, often being the key swing vote in many important cases. One of her first cases on the court, Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan involved a man being discriminated against, and not being allowed in a nursing school due to its tradition of being all female, O’Connor wrote that not only was it unconstitutional and that qualified men must be allowed entry, but the rejection lead to “the assumption that nursing is a field for women a self-fulfilling prophecy”. In 1992 the Justice was a swing vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey where she upheld the right to an abortion (up until viability) under the U.S. Constitution, this would remain until the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization where the right to an abortion was overruled and subsequently became an issue left for the states to decide. O’Connor would also defend the use of affirmative action by universities in Grutter v. Bollinger, declaring that “in the context of its individualized inquiry into the possible diversity contributions of all applicants, the Law School's race-conscious admissions program does not unduly harm nonminority applicants”. In Lawrence v. Texas the court held that sodomy laws (the making of certain sexual acts, usually same sex activity illegal) are unconstitutional, writing that “A law branding one class of persons as criminal solely based on the State’s moral disapproval of that class and the conduct associated with that class runs contrary to the values of the Constitution”. A defender of states rights as seen in New York v. United States, writing “the Constitution does not confer upon Congress the ability simply to compel the States”. These are only a handful of examples spanning an impressive and long career from 1981-2006.


“Trailblazer”, “a pioneer in her own right”, “strong, influential, and iconic”, these are among many praises of O’Connor at her funeral. President Biden, and Chief Justice Roberts attended. “She loved the law, and the Supreme Court,” her son Jay said during the memorial, he also mentioned the Justice’s final message to her children “our purpose in life is to help others along the way”.



Please note that this article is intended to provide factual coverage of events and is NOT intended to express political opinion. Any and all opinions that may be implied do not represent the official stances of the Poudre Press, Poudre School District, or Poudre High School.



Brody is a senior at Poudre High School working at the Poudre Press for the first time. Some of Brody's interests include government, history, and world events. He runs a column called 2024 Today which delves into relevant news around the upcoming 2024 election. You can find his blog here.




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