Tributes pour in for Sandra Day O'Connor, first woman Supreme Court justice

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Republicans, Democrats and a tennis legend are among those paying tribute to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor after her death Friday morning, hailing her accomplishments and her role in shattering the glass ceiling for women in law.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tweeted that O’Connor “was 1st justice I had honor of voting for as Senator” and noted that “Her contributions 2 the court will endure +she will be missed.”

“Sandra Day O’Connor was a trailblazer whose life and career paved the way for so many others,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) tweeted. “Her service and dedication to our country will be long-remembered.”

O’Connor, the first woman to serve as a majority leader in a state legislature and the first woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, died Friday in Phoenix. She was 93.

Former President Barack Obama, who awarded O'Connor the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, said in a statement that 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."

Senate leadership also paid homage to O'Connor. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the late justice "the conscience of the Court" in a statement on Friday, praising her for her votes "defending the rights of Americans — in protecting clean air, in protecting women's rights, in protecting against discrimination, in protecting voting rights." Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said O'Connor "led with a brilliance and conviction that disarmed resistance" and celebrated "the legacy of her role in landmark decisions reviving federalism."

Arizonans voiced their praise for their state’s adopted daughter. Members of both parties praised her for sticking true to her roots and the values of the state.

Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), who represents Phoenix, where O’Connor lived for much of her life, called the late justice an “Arizona icon” who “brought her Arizona brand of pragmatism and independence with her to the Supreme Court.” He also stated he “admired her steadfast commitment to preserving our democracy through objective, fact-based and collaborative civil discourse.”

Former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, tweeted Friday that “her life and career are a testament to hard work, determination, Western grit and the American dream,” and praised her as “a force of nature, with a keen grasp on basic common sense.”

Sarah Suggs, president and CEO of O’Connor’s eponymous Institute for American Democracy, told POLITICO in an interview that being with O’Connor made Suggs feel as if she was with a “founding mother.”

“It didn't matter if there was great conversation or no conversation, just being in her presence was still a very tall shadow,” said Suggs, who said she last saw O’Connor about a month ago for lunch.

Suggs first met O’Connor on a trip to Washington in 1987 and has been a part of the institute, which focuses on civics education, civic engagement and civil discourse, since 2011.

“She shattered the glass ceiling of an equal branch of power. And that itself is a very profound thought,” Suggs said.

Amb. Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and current executive director of the World Food Programme, tweeted that O’Connor was “an Arizonan and American trail blazer” and a “force of nature whom John and I were lucky to call our friend.”

Kari Lake, the former Republican nominee for Arizona governor in 2022 and current Senate hopeful, praised O'Connor, noting that she "had the honor of following her stellar career and meeting her on several occasions" in her career as a reporter.

"As an Arizonan, I am grateful for her service and contributions to our state. As a woman, I am thankful for her example of public service," Lake wrote.

Tennis legend and feminist activist Billie Jean King, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom alongside O'Connor in 2009, posted on X that O’Connor was a “trailblazing inspiration for 25 years.”

O’Connor was appointed to the nation’s highest court by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. A conservative, O’Connor was considered by some as a “swing vote,” often siding with the court’s liberal justices in consequential cases around abortion rights and affirmative action.

She retired from the Court in 2006 to take care of her husband, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and began working on initiatives to improve civics education around the country.

O’Connor retired from public life in 2018, after she revealed she had been diagnosed with dementia.