SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25: On this date 30 years ago, the U.S. government made history: For the first time since its inception, the Supreme Court of the United States seated a female justice. Sandra Day O’Connor, named the second-most-powerful woman in America by Ladies’ Home Journal in 2001, started on the road to politics at Stanford Law School—and continues her involvement today, at age 81.
President Ronald Reagan appointed her on July 7, 1981, and the U.S. Senate confirmed her by a vote of 99-0 on September 21. Four days later, she took her seat on the high court. The Wikipedia biography of O’Connor includes lots of fascinating details about her life, including a stinging letter she once wrote to the New York Times when the newspaper clumsily referenced the court. She retired from the court in 2006, partly to care for her ailing husband prior to his death in 2009.
Do you know who O’Connor replaced on the court?
Most Americans don’t recall the name: Eisenhower appointee Justice Potter Stewart.
Her Milestone: ‘Opportunities Matter’
Marking this anniversary in the Los Angeles Times, novelist and attorney Meg Waite Clayton writes that she may not have fully appreciated the milestone O’Connor’s appointment represented. Clayton’s column includes these lines: “The pipeline is slow and leaky, to be sure, but progress is being made. At the time of O’Connor’s appointment, only three women had ever served full Senate terms; now we have 17 female senators. Only one woman had ever been chief executive of a Fortune 500 company; there are currently 11. When Ronald Reagan took office, 48 of 700 federal judges were women, up from 10 just four years earlier; now women make up 26% of state and 22% of federal judges, and a third of the Supreme Court. Role models matter. Opportunities matter.”
Honors and O’Connor’s new i-Civics for students
As recipient of the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom of 2009, given by President Barack Obama, O’Connor has pledged her continued commitment to promoting civic awareness. O’Connor recently attended the 224th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution at the National Constitution Center, where she promoted a web-based program known as iCivics. (CBSNews has more.) Through games and interactivity, students can learn more about the U.S. Government. Since less than 10 percent of eighth-graders in studies can demonstrate knowledge of the three branches of government, O’Connor says it’s essential that parents and schools place a greater importance on civics education.