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Supreme Court justices salute Sandra Day O'Connor

Supreme Court justices joined the chorus of Americans on Friday saluting the late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who passed away earlier in the day at the age of 93.

The first woman to serve on the nation’s highest bench, O’Connor served for more than two decades and became a decisive swing vote on many of the court’s biggest cases.

Consistent with tradition, all living Supreme Court justices — current and retired — released statements remembering O’Connor.

Read their comments below.

Justices who served with O’Connor:

John Roberts: ‘Blazed an historic trail’

US Supreme Court Justices John Paul Stevens and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., with US President George W. Bush and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (l-r), in the Chief Justice Conference Room, Washington DC, photo on black (AP)

“A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed an historic trail as our Nation’s first female Justice. She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. “We at the Supreme Court mourn the loss of a beloved colleague, a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education.”

“And we celebrate her enduring legacy as a true public servant and patriot,” he added in his statement.

Clarence Thomas: ‘Embodiment of kindness’

Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Stephen Breyer in 2009. (AP)

“Virginia and I are deeply, deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend, Sandra Day O’Connor,” Thomas wrote. “From our very first days at the Court in 1991 and throughout the past three decades she has been the embodiment of kindness, warmth, grace, and intelligence”

“It was truly a profound honor to have been her colleague,” he added. “And, we are deeply grateful to have known her and John, for whom we also had the greatest affection. We will keep her family in our thoughts and prayers.”

David Souter: ‘Made me feel welcome’

Retired U.S. Supreme Court justice David Souter, right, jokes with retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the start of a lecture, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

“From the moment I became a member of the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor blessed me with personal kindness,” Souter, who announced he would retire from the high court in 2009, after the inauguration of former President Obama, wrote. “Within an hour (literally) of the Senate vote confirming my nomination, she somehow found me at the New Hampshire law office of a friend, and over the telephone she welcomed me to the Court and made me feel welcome.”

“While kindness like that never had a role in deciding cases, I knew it was there for me personally as Sandra’s friend,” he added.

Anthony Kennedy: ‘First in so many admirable respects’

Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, then the newest member of the Supreme Court, and the late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, are shown on April 15, 1988, in Washington, at the Supreme Court during a picture taking session. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File)

“Sandra Day O’Connor had a personal and professional stature that inspired all who knew her, in person or by reputation,” Kennedy, who retired from the bench in 2018, wrote in his statement.

She reached out to us soon after our arrival in Washington and we became the closest of friends. She was the first in so many admirable respects, and was admired in this nation and by those beyond the seas who learned from her and her career what freedom can mean to all of us. We will treasure her always.

Stephen Breyer: ‘The lunch room would light up when she walked in’

Members of he Supreme Court after the investiture of the court’s newest member Stephen Breyer on Sept. 30, 1994 at the court in Washington. (AP Photo/Pool/Ken Heinen, File)

“We have missed, and we will continue to miss, Sandra Day O’Connor,” Breyer wrote. “She was the first woman Justice, she was a great judge, and she was a kind, thoughtful, cheerful, generous human being. As a judge, she was careful and practical. She considered every legal question with intelligence”

“She was concerned about the welfare of those whom the Court’s decisions could affect. Her decisions were sound,” he said, adding that “Sandra was a patriot. She was concerned about America. And, to her, a job at the Supreme Court meant that she could make good use of her wisdom and intelligence.”

He continued, “As a colleague, Sandra always was interested in what others thought about law or other topics. And she was fun.”

Breyer, who retired last year from the bench, said O’Connor’s personality would “light up” the lunchroom.

“So would rooms in other nations when she would help organize meetings with judges from around the world,” he wrote in his statement. “She was an enthusiast. She expanded our horizons. She was a natural leader.”

“Hers was a life well-lived,” Breyer concluded. “Yes, her marvelous family will miss her; her former colleagues will miss her; her friends will miss her; and America will miss her – my dear friend, Sandra O’Connor.”

Justices who joined the bench after O’Connor’s retirement:

Samuel Alito: ‘One of the most important justices in the history of our institution’

Associate Justice Samuel Alito sits during a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, April 23, 2021. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

“Martha-Ann and I are deeply saddened by the news that Justice O’Connor has passed away,” Alito wrote. “Her appointment was a pivotal event in the history of the Supreme Court and the nation, and I will never forget the electric atmosphere in the Court at her investiture in September of 1981 when I was beginning my time in the Solicitor General’s office.”

He continued, “During her long service, she met the challenges of her pioneering role with great acumen, aplomb, dignity, and a collegial spirit. She was an inspiration for many.

The sitting judge said her unique role and significant opinions “will always be remembered.”

“I enjoyed the times when we were able to spend time together during her retirement and only wish that there had been more such occasions,” Alito added.

Sonia Sotomayor: ‘She changed the world and made history’


Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor
is applauded by Supreme Court JusticeSonia Sotomayor during a forum to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court, at the Newseum in Washington, Wednesday, April 11, 2012. (AP Photo Manuel Balce Ceneta)

“I mourn the passing of another American hero. When Sandra Day O’Connor, the ‘cowgirl from out west,’ became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, she changed the world and made history,” Sotomayor, who replaced Souter on the bench in 2009, wrote in her statement. “Indeed, her entire life was pathbreaking. She served in all three branches of government, was a brilliant champion of women’s rights, and promoted civic education in a way that transformed how children learn about our shared responsibility as citizens.”

“Sandra was a warm and caring colleague, always practical but also an unyielding visionary about the role of the Court in our society,” she continued. “I extend my condolences to her children Scott, Brian, and Jay, and their families.”

Sotomayor added, “Sandra devoted her life to her family and the country. I am truly grateful, but also deeply sad that we lost the guiding light of an outstanding trailblazer and an even better friend. I will miss her.”

Elena Kagan: ‘It is impossible to have a greater legacy’

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, left, speaks with then-U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan during a panel about Women Advocates of the Supreme Court Bar, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010, at the Newseum in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“I remember the day Justice O’Connor was nominated to the Court as though it just happened. As a young woman looking forward to law school, I thought the event momentous and inspirational,” Kagan, appointed by Obama in 2010 after the retirement of former Justice John Paul Stevens. “But I couldn’t have known then how momentous and inspirational that new nominee’s tenure on the Court would turn out to be.”

“Justice O’Connor of course became a hugely influential figure— often the single person who decided the Court’s most important cases,” she added. “What is striking to me now is how she used her influence — with extraordinary understanding of this Nation and its people; with appreciation of this Court’s necessary role, but also of its necessary limits; and with a will to promote balance and mutual respect in this too-often divided country.”

Kagan continued in her statement, “Justice O’Connor never stopped thinking and listening, learning and growing. She judged with wisdom. And her service left both this Court and this Nation better. It is impossible to have a greater legacy.”

Neil Gorsuch: ‘Through it all she never wavered from her core values’

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a new group portrait

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a new group portrait, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“Louise and I join the Nation in mourning the loss of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. From her earliest days in the legal profession to the halls of this Court, she blazed a remarkable trail of firsts,” Gorsuch, appointed by former President Trump in 2017, wrote in his statement. “Through it all she never wavered from her core values: courage, civility, love of this country and its Constitution, and an independent spirit born of the West.”

“I cherish the time I was able to spend with and learning from her — from the days I spent clerking for her friend Byron White 30 years ago, to the days we spent in Phoenix together as judges decades later poring over revisions to the federal rules of procedure,” he added.

Gorsuch heralded the former Justice for her work promoting civics education and civility.

“As she put it, ‘We must arm today’s young people with innovative civic education that is relevant to them. Bringing high-quality civics to every school in every state of our union is the only way that the next generations will become effective citizens and leaders,'” he wrote. “Today, the group she founded, iCivics, does just that, reaching millions of students in all 50 States. Her legacy of service to the Nation is profound, her example a model, her memory a blessing.”

Brett Kavanaugh: ‘She made equal justice under law a reality’

Brett Kavanaugh

Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh joins other members of the U.S. Supreme Court as they pose for a new group portrait at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“Ashley, Margaret, Liza, and I are profoundly saddened by the passing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. We extend our deepest condolences to her wonderful sons, grandchildren, and brother, as well as to her extraordinary law clerk family, whom she dearly loved,” Kavanaugh, appointed by Trump in 2018, wrote.

“As President Reagan forecast when nominating her, Justice O’Connor left her footprints on the sands of time. She made equal justice under law a reality, blazing trails and opening doors for the millions of American women and girls who have followed her lead,” he continued. “As the first woman on the Supreme Court, she worked and lived under enormous scrutiny, which she handled with unparalleled grace and grit as she thrived on and off the Court.”

Kavanaugh added, “Justice O’Connor will always be revered by Americans not only because she was the first woman on the Supreme Court but also because she was a spectacular judge and person – a model of dignity and civility who was principled and commonsensical, wise and funny, forceful and kind.”

“A woman for all seasons, Justice O’Connor was all class, all the time. I thank God for Justice O’Connor because she, as much as any judge in the history of this country, helped make America a more perfect Union. May God always bless Sandra Day O’Connor,” he concluded.

Amy Coney Barrett: ‘The perfect trailblazer’

Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Justice Amy Coney Barrett (The Hill)

“I was nine years old when Justice O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court. I remember being awestruck by her example of what was possible: she had a job previously unattainable by women, and a family besides,” Barrett, who replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the bench in 2020, wrote. “My admiration grew when, as an adult, I began to appreciate what it took to occupy her place in history.”

“Being the first woman on the Supreme Court was about so much more than being the first to sit on the bench. Justice O’Connor had to decide whether to mimic the men or do it her own way. She chose the latter, in everything from the lace jabot she wore with her robe to the aerobics classes she held at the Court,” she added.

Barrett continued, “It took remarkable self- confidence and independence to be her own brand of Supreme Court justice, feminine touches included, with all the world watching. Because of her sharp mind, she became a pivotal justice who has left her mark on American constitutional law. Because of her indomitable spirit, she made the job uniquely hers.”

She concluded by calling O’Connor “the perfect trailblazer.”

“I am grateful not only for the doors she opened, but for the style with which she walked through them,” Barrett said.

Ketanji Brown Jackson: ‘Her story has inspired generations’

FILE - Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson stands as she and members of the Supreme Court pose for a new group portrait following her addition, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson stands as she and members of the Supreme Court pose for a new group portrait following her addition, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

“I had the honor of observing Justice O’Connor at work during my service as a law clerk for Justice Breyer. Full of grace and grit, she was a marvel to watch and learn from during oral argument,” Jackson, appointed to the high court by President Biden to replace Breyer, wrote in her statement.

“In addition, as the first female Justice, Justice O’Connor helped pave the road on which other jurists, including me, now walk. Her story has inspired generations of lawyers and generations of Americans, and her commitment to justice and to the rule of law continues to serve as a model to us all,” she added. “I was saddened to learn of her passing, and I send my deepest condolences to her family.”


Source: The Hill

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