President Joe Biden delivered a heartfelt eulogy honoring the late Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a poignant funeral service held on Tuesday. He highlighted her unwavering commitment to civility and her belief in the potential of human institutions to bring about positive change. Reflecting on his experience at O’Connor’s confirmation hearing in 1981, President Biden emphasized the significance of her appointment as the first woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice in American history.
President Ronald Reagan, who nominated O’Connor, aptly described her as “a person for all seasons.” This sentiment resonated throughout her distinguished career, which began with a unanimous confirmation vote in the Senate. O’Connor’s impact on landmark cases, including her pivotal role in resolving the 2000 Bush v. Gore election dispute, cemented her reputation as a decisive and influential justice.
While acknowledging that not everyone may have agreed with her decisions, President Biden emphasized the integrity and steadfastness of O’Connor’s principles. Her genuine desire for civility and her unwavering trust in the capacity of human institutions to improve society were the driving forces behind her work. These qualities continue to resonate and inspire generations of women across all spheres of American life.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who initially stood as O’Connor’s potential successor, paid tribute to her indelible impact on the legal profession. As a young Justice Department attorney, Roberts supported her nomination and later served alongside her on the Court for four months before being chosen to replace the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. He recalled O’Connor’s characteristic wit, jokingly remarking that “the only problem was I didn’t wear a skirt” in reference to his initial nomination.
Roberts further highlighted the transformative effect O’Connor had on the perception of women in the legal profession. He spoke of conversations with female judges and lawyers who were young adults when O’Connor ascended to the bench. They expressed how difficult it is for today’s generation to comprehend the challenges women faced before O’Connor’s groundbreaking tenure. Her legacy, characterized by strength, influence, and iconism, reshaped the legal landscape and shattered barriers for future generations of female jurists.
Sandra Day O’Connor’s journey to the Supreme Court began as an Arizona appeals court judge and took her through a successful political career as a Republican state senator. She became the first woman to serve as a state senate’s majority leader. O’Connor retired from the bench in 2006 after dedicating over 24 years to her esteemed service to care for her husband, John O’Connor, who battled Alzheimer’s disease until his passing in 2009.