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.