MAKERS Profile

Sandra Day O'Connor

First Female Justice, U.S. Supreme Court

In this video

Sandra Day O’Connor on her hard-won career and the high stakes of her history-making appointment to the Court.
Sandra Day O’Connor is the daughter of ranchers—and, equally, of the land on the New Mexico-Arizona border that she and her family worked during the Great Depression. She would later recall ranch life as being formative in the simplicity, independence, and pragmatism demanded by the desert. O’Connor lived her father’s dream by earning a BA and a law degree at Stanford before marrying and starting a family.   Turned down by law firms who refused to hire women, she embarked on a distinguished prosecutorial career that led her to the Arizona Court of Appeals and, in 1981, to her appointment as the first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court. O’Connor received more than 60,000 letters during her first year as an Associate Justice, but shied from public attention and expressed relief when she was joined on the bench by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993. No longer its sole woman, O'Connor nonetheless played a powerful role on the Court: she was famous for often casting the pivotal vote in narrowly decided cases. Since her 2006 retirement, O’Connor has protected her beloved Court from without, as a vocal critic of “nakedly partisan” attacks on the independent judiciary. 

More From Sandra Day

Teaching Civics for Democracy
The decline of civics education in public school is troubling to O'Connor as the reflects on the the early principles of the nation's founding.

The Alzheimer's Challenge
O'Connor speaks out about the devastating impact of Alzheimer's and the failure of the country to tackle this challenge.

Legal Progress
O'Connor marvels at the incredible progress made by women in the workplace, and in workplace law, in her lifetime.

Taking Turns in Marriage
On her husband's support and and taking her turn at driving the family's decisions with her career.

A Good Babysitter
O'Connor talks about taking a hiatus from her career to care for her children and the itch to get back to work.  

Meeting My Husband
O'Connor's relationship with her future husband began over a law review article and a beer.

First State Majority Leader
After only her first official run for office, O'Connor made legislative history.

“Hung out a shingle”
Prevented from joining a law firm because she was a woman, O'Connor found her own means to practice law.

From Cattle to Law
O'Connor didn't always dream of becoming a lawyer.  She started with a much different goal.

Growing Up on the Cattle Ranch
O'Connor describes her early life growing up on a New Mexico cattle ranch.