Sandra Day O'Connor

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Sandra Day O'Connor
Former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
From: September 25, 1981 – January 31, 2006
Nominator Ronald Reagan
Predecessor Potter Stewart
Successor Samuel Alito
Party Republican
Spouse(s) John Jay O'Connor, III
Religion Episcopalian

Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman Associate Justice ever appointed to the United States Supreme Court. A classmate and friend of then-Justice William Rehnquist, O'Connor was appointed in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan to fulfill his campaign promise to appoint the first women to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices O'Connor and Rehnquist then frequently joined each other's opinions, with Rehnquist often obtaining O'Connor's support on his conservative opinions,[1] and sometimes O'Connor persuading Rehnquist to support her on a more liberal opinion.[2] Reagan did not bother to interview any other candidates for the job, thereby making almost no effort to nominate a real conservative.

Justice O'Connor then provided the pivotal 5th vote to the liberal wing of the Court in the important abortion, affirmative action, campaign finance and Establishment Clause cases. In October 2013, Justice O'Connor performed the second-ever homosexual marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court.[3]

Justice O'Connor retired in June 2006, and was eventually replaced on the bench by Samuel Alito.

Judicial Philosophy

Justice O'Connor advocated the use of balancing tests, often weighing the state interests against the individual rights. Often her balancing tests would have multiple parts or prongs, and arguing what would tip the balance to one side or the other became a complex exercise in brief-writing by attorneys before the U.S. Supreme Court who focused almost entirely on her philosophy. Almost none of the other Justices embraced this philosophy, and its significance was limited to cases in which her vote was the pivotal swing vote, such as on abortion and the Establishment Clause.

Upon Justice O'Connor's retirement in 2005, Ann Coulter published a column entitled "Reagan's Biggest Mistake Finally Retires."[4]

Political Background

Sandra Day O'Connor served in the Arizona state legislature and had a liberal voting record that included:[5]

  • On April 29, 1970, she voted Yes on H.B. 20, an abortion-on-demand bill, in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • On April 30, 1970, she voted Yes on the same bill in the Republican Majority Caucus (where the bill was defeated).
  • On April 23, 1974, she voted No in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a Right to Life Memorial asking Congress to extend constitutional protections to the unborn.
  • On Feb. 8, 1973, she co-sponsored the Family Planning Act (S.B. 1190) to provide "family planning," including abortions, to minors without parental consent.
  • In May 1974, she voted No on an amendment to prohibit abortions at the taxpayer-supported University of Arizona Hospital.
  • On March 23, 1972, she co-sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment (which Arizona consistently rejected).
  • On April 15, 1971, she succeeded in amending anti-pornography bills (H.B. 301 and 302) so that porn shops ("adult bookstores") could be 4,000 feet from schools and parks instead of at least a mile away.
  • In 1973, she sponsored Arizona’s no-fault divorce bill (h.b. 1007).


  1. See, e.g., Dale v. Boy Scouts (2000) and United States v. Morrison (2000)
  2. See, e.g., the FLMA case[Citation Needed] and Troxel v. Granville (2000).
  5. Phyllis Schlafly, The Supremacists, pp. 216-217 (2006).