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Biden honors Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as she's laid to rest

In a eulogy, President Joe Biden remembered the Supreme Court justice as a trailblazer and pioneer, especially paving the way for women.
Biden honors Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as she's laid to rest
Posted at 8:10 AM, Dec 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-19 14:46:13-05

Justice Sandra Day O' Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, was laid to rest Tuesday. 

O' Connor died on Dec. 1 at the age of 93 due to complications with dementia. 

The funeral took place at Washington's National Cathedral. 

Both President Joe Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts delivered eulogies during the service.

"Gracious and wise, civil and principled, Sandra Day O'Connor, the daughter of the American West, was a pioneer in her own right, breaking down the barriers in legal and political worlds, and the nation’s consciousness," President Biden said.

"How she embodied such attributes under such pressure and scrutiny helped empower generations of women in every part of American life, including the court itself. Helping open doors, secure freedoms, and prove that a woman can not only do anything a man can do, but many times, do it a heck of a lot better," said the president. 

O'Connor cemented her spot in history in 1981 when she was appointed to the high court by President Ronald Reagan. The justice went on to serve for more than two decades before retiring in 2006. 

President Biden remembered the day O’Connor was sworn into the Supreme Court, and said throughout her time as justice, she was "especially conscious of the law’s real impact on people’s lives."

Evan Thomas, O'Connor's biographer with whom she shared a close relationship, also paid tribute to the late justice during services.

Thomas painted a picture of O'Connor throughout her lifetime, from a young girl asking about church, to graduating at the top of her class at Stanford Law School — though she secured only one job interview at a time when odds were stacked against her. Through perseverance, she worked her way up without complaint, he explained.

Thomas called her "brave" and said, "more importantly, she knew how to listen."

Thomas recalled lessons learned from one of O’Connor’s law clerks, who recounted her mantra of living a balanced life: "Make time for your family. Take care of yourself. Get exercise and experience the outdoors. Have a sense of the wider culture."

Thomas recalled the clerk said the lessons were not just in law, but about life.

"She had a kind of civic religion, not just the law that is written down, but the unwritten rules of fairness and decency, and the way we should treat each other everywhere and always," Thomas said. "How lucky we were, that she was the first."

SEE MORE: The life and legacy of Sandra Day O'Connor

When it was Roberts' time to deliver remarks, he spoke of O'Connor's lasting impact.

"The last several weeks after Justice O'Connor's passing, I have spoken with many  

women judges and lawyers who were young adults when Justice O'Connor became the first. They say the same thing: Younger people today cannot understand what it was like before Justice O'Connor, in what now seems a distant past. That distance is a measure of time, but it’s also a measure of Justice O'Connor's life and work."

"In nearly a quarter-century on the court, she was a strong, influential and iconic jurist. Her leadership shaped the legal profession, making it obvious that judges are both women and men. The time when women were not on the bench seems so far away, because Justice O'Connor was so good when she was on the bench.  

Some of her landmark votes include preserving affirmative action in 2003, preserving many abortion protections in 1992, and confirming George W. Bush as president in 2000 after a close and contested election. While O'Connor's rulings on abortion and affirmative action have since been overturned by the current Supreme Court, some have called her the most consequential woman in the history of American politics. 

O'Connor regularly attended services at the cathedral where she was laid to rest, and served for eight years on its governing board.

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