80s History – 07/07/1981 First Woman Appointed to the US Supreme Court

Back in July 7, 1981, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that he would nominate the first ever woman to the United States Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor. She was to replace Potter Stewart who was about to retire.

O’Connor was notified a day before the actual nomination and she was caught unaware as she didn’t even know she was one of the finalists for the post. Her position in the Supreme Court was made official when President Reagan formally nominated her on the 19th of August 1981.

A Brief Background

Sandra Day O’Connor was born on the 26th of March 1930 in El Paso, Texas. She was then raised in a family-owned ranch in Arizona. As early as high school, her intelligence was apparent. Since educational opportunities were limited in the area surrounding the family ranch, her parents sent her to El Paso to live with her grandmother. She excelled in school and finished high school two years earlier than her peers.



By the time O’Connor was sixteen, Stanford University accepted her college application and she eventually graduated from the Ivy League school with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. By the time she was twenty years old, she took up law in Stanford. O’Connor became part of the Stanford Law Review board of editors. Instead of the typical three years to complete law, she was able to complete her studies in just two years, graduating third in her class.

Nomination Process

The nomination of O’Connor shows how the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of the United States work as a single entity. After President Reagan nominated her to take the place of then retiring Justice Potter Stewart, the nomination was then forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This committee was responsible for conducting hearings in order for O’Connor’s qualifications to be evaluated.


Ronald Reagan Sandra Day O'Connor

President Ronald Reagan and Sandra Day O’Connor



The Judiciary Committee was satisfied with O’Connors education and skills. They approved her nomination and she also got the support of the prominent Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, as well as the vote of William Rehnquist, Supreme Court Justice. Once all the necessary hearings were completed, she received the full vote of the senate and was confirmed to her post on the 2nd of September 1981.

O’Connor was more than worthy of her post. After she was appointed, she served the Supreme Court for a period of twenty-five years. She had a huge influence on many decisions made by the Supreme Court. Her views were moderate so she was able to provide the deciding vote on numerous cases of the court.

Thanks to her, countless woman were inspired to pursue legal careers. This was evident by the number of women who studied law after O’Connor was appointed to the US Supreme Court. On her first year in the Supreme Court, there were only 36% female students in US law schools. By the time O’Connor stepped down to retire in 2006, the number grew to 48%.



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