While the scales of justice might be blind, the visuals on the US Supreme Court matter. When Sandra Day O’Connor assumed her role as justice and put on that robe, it was a position that she earned. Never a token or a political pawn, her path to becoming an influential justice was not necessarily the one that everyone envisioned when she joined the highest court in the land. The impact that she made will continue to be felt after her passing.
As one of a handful of women in her Stanford Law School class, she graduated third in her class. While that status would bring many of her male colleagues a prestigious position, she could not even get an interview with private firms. Instead, she pursued a career in the public sector.
Unlike some of the other members of the bench, O’Connor had both experience in the judicial system and the legislature. When serving as an Arizona State Senator, she implored then-President Nixon to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court. While that scenario did not happen at that time, it did come to fruition.
O’Connor was the first woman to become a Supreme Court Justice. When President Ronald Reagan nominated her, the moment was more than just a statement within the legal field. It was a visual that gave all women the encouragement that they could do anything.
While O’Connor was proud to be the first woman on SCOTUS, she made it clear that it was more important that she would not be the last. As seen with recent appointments, women of all perspectives have had their spot on that bench.
During her time as a justice, O’Connor was seen as a moderate. As seen in her opinions, she was influential in abortion law and racial equality. On the other hand, she sided with conservative opinion in the Bush vs. Gore election battle.
Even though she might have had different opinions than other justices, she never lost sight of getting the job done. It was that ability to use her savvy and create personal connections which was key.
Although pop culture might have a great connection to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, O’Connor was the woman who ensured that she would not be the last female on SCOTUS. Unfortunately, O’Connor’s moderate approach may have faded into history. As she commented in later years, some of her opinions had been dismantled, but her legacy should not be forgotten.
While law scholars can read and re-read her decisions, it is not just the legal world that can appreciate the first woman Supreme Court justice. From the woman who battled breast cancer while still serving to give up her seat to care for her ailing husband, Sandra Day O’Connor is a role model not just because she made cracks in the glass ceiling but because she was able to get everyone to see beyond the cracks. It is her approach to put your head down, get the job done, and focus on the end goal that applies to anyone and everyone.