Everybody has been talking about the Supreme Court all this weekend, and fittingly today’s #HistoryMonday looks at history made with the Supreme Court on this day. It’s interesting how the subject of today’s post lines up with current events by chance and not wholly by design.
On this day in 1981, Pres. Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee was confirmed, and the first woman was appointed to serve in the Judicial Branch. Sandra Day O’Connor was officially named as a nominee for the position August 19. She began her confirmation hearing on September 9, and just days later was approved by the Senate for the position.
Pres. Reagan had promised in his 1980 Presidential campaign to appoint the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court and according to his diary dated in June of 1981 that he had decided O’Connor would make a worthy nominee. Some of the evangelicals and members of the Religious Right that had helped elect Reagan were uneasy about O’Connor because of her views on women’s issues, particularly abortion.
Three Senate Republicans were reluctant about confirming O’Connor as a Supreme Court Justice but eventually approved her nomination. The approval of O’Connor was nearly unanimous with 99 yea votes, 0 nay votes, and one absence. O’ Connor sought through her tenure to inspire women to serve as judges and through her efforts she received more mail than any justice given the significance as the first women appointed to the Supreme Court.
Sandra Day O’Connor’s tenure as the only woman on the Supreme Court lasted until 1993, when the now late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed by Pres. Clinton. Pres. Obama would appoint Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court. Pres. Trump announced this weekend that Justice Ginsburg’s replacement will be a woman as well making possibly the fifth woman to serve on the court.
O’Connor would serve until 2005 when she retired to care for her husband and was originally to be replaced by John Roberts, but was replaced instead by Samuel Alito when Roberts was named to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist upon the death of the Chief Justice.
After retirement, O’Connor served as an occasional substitute judge for federal appellate courts and contributed commentary for legal scholars and interested parties. Besides these continued professional efforts, O’Connor helped with fundraising for Alzheimer’s organizations because of her husband’s struggles with the disease until his death in 2009. O’Connor would eventually retire from the public eye in 2017 and disclosed her own diagnosis of an early Alzheimer’s-like style of dementia.
What major case do you associate with Sandra Day O’Connor?