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On this day in history, September 15, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor approved for SCOTUS by Senate committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Sandra Day O’Connor for confirmation as the first woman justice on the Supreme Court on this day in history on Sept. 15, 1981. 

On Sept. 21, O’Connor was confirmed by the full Senate by a vote of 99–0 — and four days after that, she took her seat on the bench.

O’Connor had a strong stance about ensuring protections for all Americas. 

“It [the Supreme Court] is the body to which all Americans look for the ultimate protection of their rights. It is to the U.S. Supreme Court that we all turn when we seek that which we want most from our Government: equal justice under the law,” said O’Connor in her opening statement during the Senate nomination hearings held on Sept. 9, 1981.

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O’Connor was the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court after she was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

She spent 25 years on the court, emerging as one of the more moderate justices of the time, according the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.

Born in El Paso, Texas, O’Connor was raised on a cattle ranch near Duncan, Arizona. She graduated at the top of her class from Stanford Law School.

Sandra Day O'Connor

Arizona judge Sandra Day O’Connor testifies at her confirmation as associate justice of the Supreme Court before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 1981. She was the first woman to serve on the high court.  (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“She focused on volunteer work and public service after law firms refused to interview her because she was a woman,” the same source said.

O’Connor rose through the ranks of the Arizona Republican Party from Arizona’s assistant attorney general to the first female state Senate majority leader in U.S. 

President Reagan had made a promise on the campaign trail to name a woman to the highest bench.

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She was a State Court of Appeals judge when she was appointed to the Supreme Court by Reagan, according to Arizona State University. 

O’Connor’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee were the first of any Supreme Court nominee to be broadcast live on television, and tens of millions tuned in to watch history take place. 

When Justice Potter Stewart retired in 1981, President Reagan fulfilled that promise by nominating O’Connor, noting that she was a “person for all seasons,’ according to SupremeCourt.gov.

The formal invitation came on June 25, 1981, according to PBS. 

O’Connor’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee were the first of any Supreme Court nominee to be broadcast live on television, and tens of millions tuned in to watch history take place. 

US Supreme Court building on a sunny day

The Supreme Court is seen Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Washington. On Sept. 25, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor raised her right hand and repeated the oath to join the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

“O’Connor’s interrogators attempted, time and again over three days, to probe her about her views on the most controversial issues of the time,” recounted U.S. Supreme Court.

Her Senate confirmation was unanimous at 99 votes to 0. 

During her tenure, O’Connor was frequently viewed as a swing vote due to her moderate stance on various issues, as well as a justice who could negotiate on both sides of the aisle. 

On Sept. 25, 1981, O’Connor raised her right hand and repeated the oath to join the Supreme Court.

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During her tenure, O’Connor was frequently viewed as a swing vote due to her moderate stance on various issues, as well as a justice who could negotiate on both sides of the aisle, according to multiple sources. 

Sandra Day O'Connor, Supreme Court justice

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor poses for a portrait in Washington on Nov. 12, 1991. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking )

Justice O’Connor authored 676 opinions throughout her career, 301 of which were the Opinion of the Court, touching on a wide range of issues. 

“Being a member of the Court,” she is reported as saying, “is a little like walking through fresh concrete. We look back and see our footprints in those opinions that we’ve written and they tend to harden after us,” the Supreme Court chronicled.

She served as the critical deciding vote on some of the most controversial issues of the 20th century, including those involving race, gender and reproductive rights, multiple sources noted. 

Sandra Day O’Connor is currently 93 years old. 

O’Connor was the deciding vote in Bush v. Gore in 2000, which gave the presidential election to George W. Bush, stated the official website of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

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Justice O’Connor retired from the court on Jan. 31, 2006. 

Part of her reason for retiring was to spend more time with her husband, John Jay O’Connor (who died in 2009), and their three sons, according to History.com.

Since her retirement, O’Connor has advocated for educating America’s youth on how they can be involved in civics and government. 

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She founded iCivics, a website dedicated to providing creative and effective teaching tools on the subject of civic engagement, according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute. 

She is currently 93 years old. 

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