Supreme Court justices past and present issued statements honoring retired justice Sandra Day O’Connor after her death Friday at 93.
The justices, appointed to the court by presidents across the political spectrum, expressed their admiration for O’Connor, remembering her as a trailblazer and a friend.
The court’s four female justices also emphasized the personal impact of O’Connor’s legacy as the first female Supreme Court justice, as well as her independence, which made her the pivotal vote in closely contested cases.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor said O’Connor “changed the world and made history.” Justice Elena Kagan recalled how “as a young woman looking forward to law school,” she was inspired by O’Connor’s nomination. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was 9 years old when O’Connor was appointed to the court, said that as an adult, she “began to appreciate what it took to occupy her place in history.” And Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recalled observing O’Connor as a clerk for the court, writing that “she was a marvel to watch and learn from during oral argument.”
“A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed a historic trail as our Nation’s first female Justice. She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor. We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education. And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot.”
“Virginia and I are deeply, deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend, Sandra Day O’Connor. From our very first days at the Court in 1991 and throughout the past three decades she has been the embodiment of kindness, warmth, grace, and intelligence. It was truly a profound honor to have been her colleague. And, we are deeply grateful to have known her and John, for whom we also had the greatest affection. We will keep her family in our thoughts and prayers.”
“Martha-Ann and I are deeply saddened by the news that Justice O’Connor has passed away. Her appointment was a pivotal event in the history of the Supreme Court and the nation, and I will never forget the electric atmosphere in the Court at her investiture in September of 1981 when I was beginning my time in the Solicitor General’s office. During her long service, she met the challenges of her pioneering role with great acumen, aplomb, dignity, and a collegial spirit. She was an inspiration for many. Both because of her unique role and her many significant opinions, she will always be remembered as one of the most important justices in the history of our institution. I enjoyed the times when we were able to spend time together during her retirement and only wish that there had been more such occasions.”
“I mourn the passing of another American hero. When Sandra Day O’Connor, the “cowgirl from out west,” became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, she changed the world and made history. Indeed, her entire life was pathbreaking. She served in all three branches of government, was a brilliant champion of women’s rights, and promoted civic education in a way that transformed how children learn about our shared responsibility as citizens. Sandra was a warm and caring colleague, always practical but also an unyielding visionary about the role of the Court in our society. I extend my condolences to her children Scott, Brian, and Jay, and their families. Sandra devoted her life to her family and the country. I am truly grateful, but also deeply sad that we lost the guiding light of an outstanding trailblazer and an even better friend. I will miss her.”
“I remember the day Justice O’Connor was nominated to the Court as though it just happened. As a young woman looking forward to law school, I thought the event momentous and inspirational. But I couldn’t have known then how momentous and inspirational that new nominee’s tenure on the Court would turn out to be. Justice O’Connor of course became a hugely influential figure — often the single person who decided the Court’s most important cases. What is striking to me now is how she used her influence — with extraordinary understanding of this Nation and its people; with appreciation of this Court’s necessary role, but also of its necessary limits; and with a will to promote balance and mutual respect in this too-often divided country. Justice O’Connor never stopped thinking and listening, learning and growing. She judged with wisdom. And her service left both this Court and this Nation better. It is impossible to have a greater legacy.”
“Louise and I join the Nation in mourning the loss of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. From her earliest days in the legal profession to the halls of this Court, she blazed a remarkable trail of firsts. Through it all she never wavered from her core values: courage, civility, love of this country and its Constitution, and an independent spirit born of the West. I cherish the time I was able to spend with and learning from her — from the days I spent clerking for her friend Byron White 30 years ago, to the days we spent in Phoenix together as judges decades later poring over revisions to the federal rules of procedure. Her work promoting civics education and civility while on the bench and after her retirement were visionary. As she put it, “We must arm today’s young people with innovative civic education that is relevant to them. Bringing high-quality civics to every school in every state of our union is the only way that the next generations will become effective citizens and leaders.” Today, the group she founded, iCivics, does just that, reaching millions of students in all 50 States. Her legacy of service to the Nation is profound, her example a model, her memory a blessing.”
“Ashley, Margaret, Liza, and I are profoundly saddened by the passing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. We extend our deepest condolences to her wonderful sons, grandchildren, and brother, as well as to her extraordinary law clerk family, whom she dearly loved. As President Reagan forecast when nominating her, Justice O’Connor left her footprints on the sands of time. She made equal justice under law a reality, blazing trails and opening doors for the millions of American women and girls who have followed her lead. As the first woman on the Supreme Court, she worked and lived under enormous scrutiny, which she handled with unparalleled grace and grit as she thrived on and off the Court. Justice O’Connor will always be revered by Americans not only because she was the first woman on the Supreme Court but also because she was a spectacular judge and person — a model of dignity and civility who was principled and common-sensical, wise and funny, forceful and kind. A woman for all seasons, Justice O’Connor was all class, all the time. I thank God for Justice O’Connor because she, as much as any judge in the history of this country, helped make America a more perfect Union. May God always bless Sandra Day O’Connor.”
“I was nine years old when Justice O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court. I remember being awestruck by her example of what was possible: she had a job previously unattainable by women, and a family besides. My admiration grew when, as an adult, I began to appreciate what it took to occupy her place in history. Being the first woman on the Supreme Court was about so much more than being the first to sit on the bench. Justice O’Connor had to decide whether to mimic the men or do it her own way. She chose the latter, in everything from the lace jabot she wore with her robe to the aerobics classes she held at the Court. It took remarkable self-confidence and independence to be her own brand of Supreme Court justice, feminine touches included, with all the world watching. Because of her sharp mind, she became a pivotal justice who has left her mark on American constitutional law. Because of her indomitable spirit, she made the job uniquely hers. Sandra Day O’Connor was the perfect trailblazer. I am grateful not only for the doors she opened, but for the style with which she walked through them.”
“I had the honor of observing Justice O’Connor at work during my service as a law clerk for Justice Breyer. Full of grace and grit, she was a marvel to watch and learn from during oral argument. In addition, as the first female Justice, Justice O’Connor helped pave the road on which other jurists, including me, now walk. Her story has inspired generations of lawyers and generations of Americans, and her commitment to justice and to the rule of law continues to serve as a model to us all. I was saddened to learn of her passing, and I send my deepest condolences to her family.”
“From the moment I became a member of the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor blessed me with personal kindness. Within an hour (literally) of the Senate vote confirming my nomination, she somehow found me at the New Hampshire law office of a friend, and over the telephone she welcomed me to the Court and made me feel welcome. While kindness like that never had a role in deciding cases, I knew it was there for me personally as Sandra’s friend.”
“Sandra Day O’Connor had a personal and professional stature that inspired all who knew her, in person or by reputation. She reached out to us soon after our arrival in Washington and we became the closest of friends. She was the first in so many admirable respects, and was admired in this nation and by those beyond the seas who learned from her and her career what freedom can mean to all of us. We will treasure her always.”
“We have missed, and we will continue to miss, Sandra Day O’Connor. She was the first woman Justice, she was a great judge, and she was a kind, thoughtful, cheerful, generous human being. As a judge, she was careful and practical. She considered every legal question with intelligence. She was concerned about the welfare of those whom the Court’s decisions could affect. Her decisions were sound. Sandra was a patriot. She was concerned about America. And, to her, a job at the Supreme Court meant that she could make good use of her wisdom and intelligence. As a colleague, Sandra always was interested in what others thought about law or other topics. And she was fun. The lunch room would light up when she walked in. So would rooms in other nations when she would help organize meetings with judges from around the world. She was an enthusiast. She expanded our horizons. She was a natural leader. Hers was a life well-lived. Yes, her marvelous family will miss her; her former colleagues will miss her; her friends will miss her; and America will miss her — my dear friend, Sandra O’Connor.”