Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was remembered by the nation and world as a trailblazer who opened doors for women and a jurist who fought to hold the center in the court's rulings.
Tributes poured in for an Arizona icon and giant in the state's public life for half a century. Arizona's congressional delegation observed a moment of silence on the House floor in honor of O'Connor's passing.
Here are some of the comments made in tribute to O'Connor after her death on Dec. 1:
What national leaders said about Sandra Day O'Connor
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz.: "Justice Sandra Day O'Connor – Arizona’s original cowgirl – paved the way for countless women like me in law and life. She was fiercely independent just like Arizona, and she worked tirelessly to do what's best for our state and country. Arizona and America are grateful for her service and leadership."
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz.: “Sandra Day O’Connor was a great Arizonan and a great American. She's someone Gabby and I both really looked up to. Her brilliant, thoughtful legal career leaves a legacy in our law and in the generations of young girls who were inspired by her trailblazing example.”
Former President Barack Obama: “When a young Sandra Day graduated from Stanford Law School near the top of her class — in two years instead of the usual three — she was offered just one job in the private sector,” wrote the former president, who awarded O'Connor the Presidential Medal of Freedom while in office. “Her prospective employer asked her how well she typed and told her there might be work for her as a legal secretary.
“Fortunately for us, she set her sights a little higher — becoming the first woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. As a judge and Arizona legislator, a cancer survivor and child of the Texas plains, Sandra Day O’Connor was like the pilgrim in the poem she sometimes quoted — forging a new path and building a bridge behind her for all young women to follow. Michelle and I send our thoughts to Sandra’s family and everyone who learned from and admired her.”
Former President George W. Bush: “Laura and I are saddened by the passing of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. It was fitting that Sandra became the first female appointed to our highest court, because she was a pioneer who lived by the code of the west. She was determined and honest, modest and considerate, dependable and self-reliant. She was also fun and funny, with a wonderful sense of humor. Justice O'Connor was thorough and thoughtful in her opinions, and Laura and I are grateful for her principled service. We send our condolences to her family and friends.”
Cindy McCain, wife of late Sen. John McCain: “Sandra Day O’Connor was an Arizonan and American trail blazer. A force of nature whom John and I were lucky to call our friend.”
Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz.: "Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spent her life breaking down barriers in the pursuit of a more just society," Stanton said in remarks on the House floor. "In the years since her retirement from the Court, I’ve admired her steadfast commitment to preserving our democracy through objective, fact-based and collaborative civil discourse. Her work will inspire future generations to follow her example to become engaged and thoughtful civic participants."
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.: "She stood up for truth. She stood up for justice. She was not only a wonderful woman, and a representative of Arizona, but a wonderful American. We are saddened by her passing, but she set the trail for all of us women. She was a great Republican, a great American, and we praise her each and every day," Lesko said on the House floor.
Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz.: “I was fortunate to first meet Justice O'Connor as a teenager when she was kind enough to spend a few minutes of her time with a group of Arizona Teenage Republicans from Saguaro High School at the Arizona State Capitol as she was making her meteoric rise in state politics, leaving a lasting impression that I still hold with me to this day. She represented the best of Arizona throughout her extraordinary life.”
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.: “Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was a constitutional conservative and trailblazer who made lasting impacts on our country. May we honor her dedication to public service at the SCOTUS, the Arizona state legislature, and Arizona state appellate courts. She is gone but not forgotten.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.: "Sandra Day O'Connor was an Arizona trailblazer who dedicated decades to serving both our beautiful state and country. The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Sandra broke barriers everywhere she went ... Arizona will miss her."
Kari Lake, U.S. Senate candidate: “I am saddened to hear about the passing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. As a reporter, I had the honor of following her stellar career and meeting her on several occasions. She was a trailblazer, serving as the first female Supreme Court Justice, and Majority Leader in the Arizona Senate.”
Mark Lamb, Pinal County sheriff and U.S. Senate candidate: Lamb heralded O'Connor as a champion of law and order.
"Justice O'Connor was a true conservative who understood the role and the limits of our Judiciary," Lamb said in a statement. "As a daughter of Arizona, she served our nation with uncompromising grace, honor and dignity. Her legacy on our nation's highest court is heralded and will not be forgotten."
Sandra Day O'Connor: Arizona ranch girl, American legend
What Arizona leaders said about Sandra Day O'Connor
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs: "Justice Sandra Day O’Connor put people above all else and created an eternal legacy that will forever be ingrained in the fibers of our state and nation’s history. On behalf of the State of Arizona, I send my deepest sympathies to her family, loved ones & everyone touched by her trailblazing legacy."
Former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey: He remembered O'Connor as a "force of nature," noting “Ronald Reagan put it best when he called Justice O’Connor a “person for all seasons.” Her life and career are a testament to hard work, determination, Western grit and the American dream," Ducey wrote in a social media post. “From the Arizona Senate to the United States Supreme Court, she broke barriers and shattered any ceiling that stood in her way.”
Former Gov. Jan Brewer: "Today we lost an Arizona treasure and icon. Sandra Day O'Connor was America's 1st female US Supreme Court Justice. From Arizona’s Lazy B Ranch all the way to the Supreme Court, she knew everyone could make a difference. RIP my friend."
Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes: She called O'Connor an icon who "set a powerful example of leadership for so many to follow." Mayes said she admired O'Connor's path: "(H)ow she went from my own beloved rural Arizona, to the marbled halls of the Supreme Court."
State Senate President Warren Petersen: "Sandra Day O'Connor was an impactful conservative and a trailblazer who displayed the epitome of a hardworking public servant, a dedicated mother, and inspired many women to pursue leadership roles within the legislative and judicial branches of government," said Petersen, R-Gilbert. He called her work on civil discourse admirable and an example to be followed.
Arizona State University President Michael Crow: "Today we mourn a true pioneer of Arizona and our nation. Justice O’Connor was a trailblazing leader for justice, equality and the law, and an amazing human. ASU is deeply honored to carry her name and her passion for legal and civic education forward for future generations."
What local leaders said about Sandra Day O'Connor
Clint Hickman, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors: Hickman remembered O'Connor for her humility, recalling a trip to Washington D.C. that he made with high school classmates soon after O'Connor joined the high court.
"It must have been a whirlwind time for her, with so many demands on her time," Hickman said in a news release. "But she pulled all of us Arizona kids aside, took us into the Supreme Court chambers, and talked to us about the work of American democracy. She made us feel valued. I think it's that rural background, where you slow down enough to be decent to people. She never forgot that."
Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo: A Democrat, Gallardo said O'Connor was respected on both sides of the aisle because she treated people with respect. He applauded her post-court work, promoting civility and civic engagement. "There will never be another Sandra Day O'Connor, but we should all aspire to be a little more like her."
Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates: O'Connor will be remembered for "her pioneering spirit, intellect, and commitment to justice," Gates wrote. "Beyond her legal prowess, Justice O'Connor's Arizona roots were integral to shaping her character and perspective, embodying the resilience and tenacity that we Arizonans are proud of. As we bid farewell to this trailblazing jurist, we honor not only her profound contributions to the judiciary but also the indelible mark she left on the Grand Canyon State and America. You made your state and country proud, Justice O’Connor.”
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego: "Sandra Day O’Connor was a trailblazing inspiration for women, especially those of us in Arizona. With her unique grit, O’Connor took any ‘no’ she got and turned it into a ‘watch me!’ — leading her all the way to the Supreme Court. Her legacy is forever etched in our memories."
Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari: "Sandra Day O’ Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, set the stage for millions of women who’d go on to see themselves in rooms they weren’t welcome. Arizona has lost a titan. I’m wishing her eternal rest."
Sandra Day O'Connor's legacy in Phoenix: Bipartisan focus on civics and conversation
Phoenix Councilwoman Laura Pastor: "This is a sad day for Arizona and for our nation. Sandra Day O’Connor was a trailblazer who paved the way for women in law and public service. Her legacy will live on through the countless lives she touched and the example she set for all of us. Rest in peace, Justice O’Connor."
Phoenix Councilwoman Ann O'Brien: "Today we mourn the loss of a true legend, Sandra Day O'Connor, the trailblazing first woman elected to the Supreme Court by President Regan. Her groundbreaking achievements paved the way for women in politics. May she find eternal peace. #SandraDayOConnor."
Officials from the Sandra Day O'Connor House in Tempe: "The organization she founded remains resolute and will redouble our efforts to continue her lifetime work and extraordinary legacy,” said Gay Firestone Wray, Board of Directors co-chair.
The house is the actual dwelling O'Connor and her husband, John, lived in. It was later moved to Tempe from Paradise Valley and serves as a gathering place for events focused on civic engagement, civil discourse, and civics education.
"Justice O’Connor led our organization with vision and intellect, and she exemplified our nation’s ideals,” said Sarah Suggs, president and CEO. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to continue her work and dedication to our great nation.”
What people in the legal profession said about Sandra Day O'Connor
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.: "A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed an historic trail as our Nation’s first female Justice. She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor."
"We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education. And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot."
Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel: "Before her elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor served our state as an assistant attorney general and state senator. We are proud that she served as a superior court judge in Maricopa County and then as a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals before being selected as the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1981."
Chief Deputy Attorney General of Arizona Dan Barr: "The most valuable lesson Justice O’Connor taught me as a young lawyer was that to be an effective advocate, you had to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. While I haven’t always succeeded at that, it is a goal we all should strive for."
Arizona Court of Appeals and Supreme Court: "The passing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is a huge loss for the legal profession, judicial branch, and the State of Arizona," the courts said in a joint statement. "Justice O’Connor’s legacy as a jurist and Arizonan who worked tirelessly to improve our community and our justice system is truly an inspiration to all."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch fondly recalled his time spent working with O’Connor in Arizona. “I cherish the time I was able to spend with and learning from her — from the days I spent clerking for her friend Byron White 30 years ago, to the days we spent in Phoenix together as judges decades later poring over revisions to the federal rules of procedure,” Gorsuch wrote.
Elena Kagan, a liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice: “I remember the day Justice O’Connor was nominated to the Court as though it just happened … I couldn’t have known then how momentous and inspirational that new nominee’s tenure on the Court would turn out to be,” describing O’Connor as “hugely influential.”
“As a colleague, Sandra always was interested in what others thought about law or other topics. And she was fun. The lunchroom would light up when she walked in,” wrote retired Justice Stephen Breyer. “She was a natural leader.”
David Duncan, retired U.S. Magistrate judge, District of Arizona: "For Arizona, she was our past and our future. She grew up on a cattle ranch in Duncan and never forgot that she was a cowgirl, but she grew up to be one of the most brilliant jurists ever and a role model for women, judges and all people across the world."
Republic reporters Mary Jo Pitzl, Laura Gersony, Taylor Seely and Jimmy Jenkins contributed to this article.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Sandra Day O'Connor's life remembered by Arizona lawmakers