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Sandra Day O’Connor Is Celebrated as a ‘Trailblazer’


One adjective was invoked more than any other to describe Sandra Day O’Connor immediately after her death at 93 on Friday: “trailblazing.”

Justice O’Connor, the first woman on the United States Supreme Court, paved the way for generations of women in politics and law. Raised on a remote Arizona ranch, Justice O’Connor was remembered as much for being first as for her rugged independence on the court.

Shortly after her death was announced by the Supreme Court, public figures from across the political spectrum praised Justice O’Connor on social media for her fearlessness, both in crashing through the judiciary’s glass ceiling and in casting swing votes on some of the nation’s most polarizing cultural issues, including abortion and affirmative action.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., a fellow conservative, whose voting record on the court often echoes Justice O’Connor’s, praised her on Friday as a “fiercely independent defender of the rule of law.”

Women and organizations that advocate for women’s empowerment were also quick to eulogize Justice O’Connor.

The tennis legend Billie Jean King, whose activism won equal prize money for men and women at the U.S. Open half a century ago, called Justice O’Connor a “trailblazing inspiration.” The Girl Scouts proudly identified her as an alum.

Others shared personal anecdotes of their time with Justice O’Connor.

Maria Shriver, the television journalist, recalled working with Justice O’Connor on Alzheimer’s issues. “In our last conversation she asked me, what are you doing that’s new, that’s different?” Ms. Shriver recalled in a social media post. “She kept pushing me to do more. To work harder. Knock down more doors.”

Jeff Blattner, a former chief counsel to Senator Ted Kennedy, was a clerk for Justice Potter Stewart when, he said, he “had the very good fortune to be ‘loaned’ to Justice O’Connor.”

“She was fiercely intelligent, incredibly hard-working, strongly independent-minded, and very gracious and kind,” Mr. Blattner said.

Although Justice O’Connor was a Republican, praise for her came in from both sides of the aisle, with politicians recalling her determination and pluck.

Former President Donald J. Trump said he was saddened by her death, noting Justice O’Connor’s friendship with his sister, Marianne Trump Barry, a former federal judge who died last month.

Former President Barack Obama, who awarded Justice O’Connor the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, recalled that when she graduated near the top of her class at Stanford Law School, a prospective employer suggested that there might be a job for her as a legal secretary.

“Fortunately for us, she set her sights a little higher,” Mr. Obama said.

Justice O’Connor stepped down from the court in 2005 to care for her husband, John Jay O’Connor III, who had Alzheimer’s disease. On Friday, other prominent women who have been public about the challenges of juggling career and family took time to note Justice O’Connor’s role as a pioneer.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, who was the first to bring a baby to the Senate floor, credited Justice O’Connor with having “paved the way for so many female leaders.”



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