Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O鈥機onnor. Photo provided by NNPA Newswire

By Stacy M. Brown
For the Washington Informer

Sandra Day O鈥機onnor, the trailblazing legal luminary who shattered the glass ceiling as the first female Supreme Court justice, breathed her last on Friday morning in Phoenix, Arizona. She was 93.

The icon鈥檚 battle with dementia was disclosed to the public in October 2018 through a poignant letter in which she expressed her inability to continue participating in public life due to the advancing condition. Politico first reported her death.

During her remarkable 24-year tenure on the bench, Justice O鈥機onnor left an indelible mark on American jurisprudence. Her pivotal role in landmark decisions on contentious issues such as affirmative action and abortion underscored her influence. Notably, O鈥機onnor played a crucial role in the 5-4 decision in Bush v. Gore, a verdict that ultimately led to George W. Bush鈥檚 victory in the 2000 presidential election.

In recognition of her transformative contributions to the American judiciary, O鈥機onnor received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Her appointment in 1981 paved the way for subsequent female justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, solidifying her legacy as a true pioneer.

Born in eastern Arizona, O鈥機onnor initially aspired to be a rancher but pursued a different path, overcoming gender-based employment discrimination to become the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court. In a career that exemplified resilience, she served as a deputy county attorney, worked as a civilian attorney in Germany, and became the first female majority leader in the United States for the Arizona Senate.

O鈥機onnor, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, embraced the significance of her historic role, according to Politico. 鈥淚 felt a special responsibility鈥 I could either do an adequate job so it would be possible for other women to be appointed without [people] saying, 鈥極h, see, a woman can鈥檛 do it,鈥 O鈥機onnor said.

Even a battle with cancer couldn鈥檛 dampen O鈥機onnor鈥檚 resolve. She underwent a mastectomy in 1988, emphasizing her determination to continue her judicial duties without interruption.

A moderate conservative, O鈥機onnor defied easy categorization, often serving as a swing voter in high-profile cases. Her nuanced approach to abortion, evolving from an initial stance against it to a decisive vote in favor of upholding Roe v. Wade in 1992, showcased her commitment to legal principles and precedent.

In 2006, O鈥機onnor stepped down from the bench to care for her husband, who was battling Alzheimer鈥檚, and was succeeded by Samuel Alito. Her legacy, however, extended beyond her judicial contributions. The Supreme Court, initially unprepared for a female justice, underwent symbolic changes, such as the designation of the first women鈥檚 bathroom near the courtroom.

Post-retirement, O鈥機onnor founded iCivics in 2006, a groundbreaking initiative to educate children about the political process through interactive games.

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