Sandra Day O’Connor was born in El Paso, Texas on March 26th, 1930. Her family later later moved to Duncan, Arizona where she grew up on a cattle ranch. The ranch was 9 miles from the nearest paved road and her family home did not have running water or electricity until Sandra was seven years old. Sandra had two younger siblings, a sister and a brother. Her sister was Ann Day, who served in the Arizona Legislature. Ann wrote a book with her brother, H. Alan Day, Lazy B : Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American West (2002), about their childhood experiences on the ranch.
O’Connor attended Stanford University. While attending Stanford University, she served on the Stanford Law Review with its presiding editor-in-chief, future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was the class valedictorian. She has stated that she graduated third in her law school class, though Stanford’s official position is that the law school did not rank students in 1952.
On December 20, 1952, six months after graduating from law school, she married John Jay O’Connor III. The two met as students while attending Stanford Law School. When her husband was drafted, she moved with him to work in Germany as a civilian attorney for the Army’s Quartermaster Corps. They remained there for three years until returning to the states where they settled Arizona to begin their family. They had three sons: Scott (born 1958), Brian (born 1960), and Jay (born 1962).
From 1965 to 1969 O’Connor served as assistant Attorney General of Arizona until she was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Arizona Senate. She ran for and won the election for the seat the following year. By 1973, she became the first woman to serve as Arizona’s or any state’s Majority Leader. After she served two full terms, O’Connor decided to leave the Senate. In 1974, she was elected to the Maricopa County Superior Court serving from 1975 to 1979 when she was elevated to the Arizona State Court of Appeals. She served on the Court of Appeals-Division One until 1981 when she was appointed to the Supreme Court by then US President Ronald Reagan.
She was considered a federalist and a moderate Republican. She often sided with the Court’s conservative bloc, although in her latter years of her tenure, she was regarded as having the swing opinion in many cases. O’Connor announced her intention to retire on July 1, 2005 effective upon the confirmation of a successor. Since retiring in 2006, O’Connor resides in her Paradise Valley ranch home. On August 12, 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States, by then US President Barack Obama.
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