Sandra Day O’Connor, first female Supreme Court justice, and an Episcopalian, has died at 93

By ENS Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2023

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delivers the keynote speech during a conference at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 26, 2010. Photo: Kevin Lamarque /REUTERS

[Episcopal News Service] Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, died Dec. 1 in Phoenix, Arizona, due to complications related to advanced dementia and a respiratory illness. She was 93.

O’Connor was baptized in The Episcopal Church and attended Sunday worship services at Washington National Cathedral during her tenure. She served on the cathedral chapter, the governing body of the congregation, for eight years.

Justice O’Connor embodied an even-handed embrace of equal justice under law. By zealously clinging to the center, she rejected the false allure of polarized ideological purity, said Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and the Very Rev. Randolph Hollerith in a written tribute to O’Connor on Washington National Cathedral’s website.

That commitment to common ground and the common good made her an indispensable member of our nation’s highest court. We mourn the loss of her no-nonsense approach to complicated questions that refused to surrender to petty partisanship.

O’Connor was born on March 26, 1930, to cattle ranchers in El Paso, Texas, where she grew up without electricity or indoor plumbing. In 1946, at the age of 16, she graduated from high school and enrolled at Stanford University. She was one of only five women in her incoming class at Stanford Law School.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor, then 51 years old, to the Supreme Court, fulfilling a campaign promise to appoint the first female justice. Prior to the Supreme Court, O’Connor served as a judge on a midlevel appeals court in Arizona. After serving for 24 years in Washington, D.C., she retired in 2006.

During retirement, O’Connor sat as a visiting judge on federal appeals courts around the country. She also was a vocal supporter of judicial independence and civics education.

Five other women have since served on the Supreme Court: current justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson, and former justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020.

Funeral arrangements for O’Connor will be released when available, according to the Supreme Court’s press office.