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Sandra Day O'Conner--Biography

Born on March 26, 1930 in El Paso, Texas, Sandra Day spent her early childhood in southern Arizona on the Lazy-B Cattle ranch, which was owned by her parents, Harry and Ada Mae Day. Upon reaching school age, she was sent by her parents to El Paso where she stayed with her grandmother, while attending a private academy for girls.

After graduating from high school, Sandra Day attended Stanford University, and in 1950 she received a B.A. in Economics, magna cum laude. Having chosen to continue at Stanford for a law degree, she achieved it in two years rather than the customary three and graduated third in class of 102. It was during her work as editor on the Stanford Law Review that she met John Jay O´Connor III, a fellow student. They were married after his graduation from law school, which came a year after hers, and soon found themselves in Frankfurt, Germany, with John now an officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps and Sandra serving as a civilian lawyer for the Quartermaster Corps. Then, upon their return to the United States in 1957, the couple settled in Phoenix, Arizona.

Sandra Day O´Connor served as an Arizona assistant attorney general from 1965 to 1969, when she was appointed to a vacancy in the Arizona Senate. She successfully defended her senate seat twice and eventually became the Senate´s majority leader. In 1974 she ran for and won a position as a trial judge in the Maricopa County Superior Court. which she held until she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979. Less than two years later, on July 7, 1981 President Ronald Reagan nominated her to the United States Supreme Court, and in September of the same year she became the Court´s 102nd justice and its first female member.

During her time on the Court, Justice O´Connor approached each case as an individual entity and sought always to arrive at a practical conclusion. She was a consummate compromiser who also became noted for concurrences that narrowed the scope of Supreme Court rulings. Her votes were generally conservative, but she frequently surprised observers with her political independence, and during her tenure she often cast the swing vote on a court sharply divided over issues such as affirmative action and abortion.

In her opinions an affirmative action, has endorsed such measures only if "narrowly tailored" to correct a demonstrated wrong, but not otherwise. In a landmark 1989 opinion, City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., O´Connor´s opinion for the Court concluded that government programs setting aside a fixed percentage of public contracts for minority businesses violate equal protection. On the polarizing issue of abortion, O´Connor searched for a middle ground in a series of decisions in the 1980s and ultimately found one in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992). Here, O´Connor and Justice Anthony Kennedy joined a controversial plurality opinion by Justice Souter that sharply criticized the constitutional foundation for&--yet declined to overturn--the Court´s original 1973 recognition of the right to abortion.

Among O´Connor´s other noted opinions are those dealing with issues of religious freedom. A concurring opinion she wrote in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) on the constitutionality of a government-sponsored nativity scene effectively set the legal standard for determining when such displays violate the Constitution´s prohibition on government establishment of religion. A year later, another O´Connor concurrence was important in outlining the constitutional bounds on a state-prescribed "voluntary moment of silence" for school children. According to O´Connor, the law in question was unconstitutional because it aimed to encourage prayer, but it might have passed muster had it not favored "the child who chooses to pray ... over the child who chooses to meditate or reflect."

On July 1, 2005 Associate Justice O´Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court after 24 years of service on the bench.