1998 MARY HARRIMAN AWARD WINNER
The Junior League of Phoenix
Causes/Issue Area(s): Public Service, Constitutional Law
Honors/Achievements: First female Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009
It may be difficult for women who weren’t there at the time to understand, but Sandra Day O’Connor’s swearing in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States 30 years ago was a very big deal.
The first woman to serve on the Court, she was widely acknowledged during her 25-year tenure as a careful and thoughtful jurist who ruled on many of the most important legal issues of her time.
Even before spending a quarter of a century on the Supreme Court, however, the former Junior League of Phoenix President led a life of public service.
Born and raised on a cattle ranch in Arizona, an experience she chronicled in a book she wrote with her brother, Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest in 2003, she graduated from Stanford Law School, where she served on the Stanford Law Review. Unable to find a job with a law firm in California, she became a county prosecutor.
She entered Arizona politics, first as Assistant Attorney General and later as a member of the Arizona State Senate, later becoming the first female majority leader in a state legislature.
In 1981, after serving on the Arizona Court of Appeals, she was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, making her the last Supreme Court Justice to have started out in politics.
Nearly 30 years later, in 2009, Justice O’Connor was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by President Barack Obama. It was a fitting capstone on a fruitful life in public service.
Justice O'Connor’s other commitments have included serving as Chancellor of The College of William & Mary and as a trustee of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.