Sandra Day O’Connor is known as the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. O’Connor was born in El Paso, Texas in 1930. Her family wanted to give her the best education possible, but schooling options near the family ranch in Arizona were limited for a young woman. Her parents sent her to live with her grandmother in El Paso to give her the best chance at a quality education.
O’Connor went to Stanford Law School. Afterwards, she struggled to find employment due to a heavy bias against female attorneys. She began her legal career working for the county attorney of San Mateo for free. Once she proved herself, she got a job as the deputy county attorney.
In 1957, she established a private law practice. Eight years later, she began working as the Assistant Attorney General of Arizona. She served in the Arizona State Senate, serving as the first female majority leader in any state senate. She was elected to the Superior Court of Maricopa County, and was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court of Appeals four years later. President Ronald Reagan nominated her in 1981 to become the first female justice to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
One of O’Connor’s first actions as a justice was the drafting of a majority opinion in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan. This case involved gender discrimination in which a man sued after being denied admission to the traditionally all-female nursing school. The Court ruled that the school must admit qualified men; O’Connor reasoned that barring men from the school perpetuated the stereotype that nursing was a woman’s job. In 1992, O’Connor served as the swing vote that reaffirmed the Roe v. Wade decision in the abortion rights case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. O’Connor continued to promote women’s interests in two cases that protected the rights of young school girls being harassed by their classmates and held the schools liable for such harassment. Over her two decades on the court, the conservative justice became known as a somewhat unpredictable voter. She was known for being a swing vote in split cases. Since her retirement in 2006, she has advocated for educating America’s youth on how they can be involved in civics and government.
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