Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, first woman on the Supreme Court, to be laid to rest at funeral Tuesday

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, first woman on the Supreme Court, to be laid to rest at funeral Tuesday

WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, an Arizona native and consistent voice of moderate conservatism as the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, will be laid to rest with funeral services Tuesday.

President Joe Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts are scheduled to speak at the funeral held at Washington National Cathedral. O’Connor retired from the high court in 2006 after more than two decades, and died Dec. 1 at age 93.

O’Connor was nominated in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. A rancher’s daughter who was largely unknown on the national scene until her appointment, she would come to be referred to by commentators as the nation’s most powerful woman.

O’Connor wielded considerable influence on the nine-member court, generally favoring states in disputes with the federal government and often siding with police when they faced claims of violating people’s rights. Her impact could perhaps best be seen, though, on the court’s rulings on abortion. She twice helped form the majority in decisions that upheld and reaffirmed Roe v. Wade, the decision that said women have a constitutional right to abortion.

Thirty years after that decision, a more conservative court overturned Roe, and the opinion was written by the man who took her place, Justice Samuel Alito.

O’Connor was a top-ranked graduate of Stanford’s law school in 1952, but quickly discovered that most large law firms at the time did not hire women. She nevertheless built a career that included service as a member of the Arizona Legislature and state judge before her appointment to the Supreme Court at age 51.

When she first arrived, there wasn’t even a women’s bathroom anywhere near the courtroom. That was soon rectified, but she remained the court’s only woman until 1993.

In a speech before her casket lay in repose Monday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor remembered O’Connor as a trailblazer and a “living example that women could take on any challenge, could more than hold their own in any spaces dominated by men and could do so with grace.”

O’Connor retired at age 75, citing her husband’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. She later expressed regret that a woman had not been chosen to replace her, but would live to see a record four women serving on the high court.

President Barack Obama awarded O’Connor the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

She died in Phoenix of complications related to advanced dementia and a respiratory illness. Her survivors include a brother, three sons and grandchildren.

The family has asked that donations be made to iCivics, the group she founded to promote civics education.

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Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.

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