40 years ago, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed a historic trail for women in the legal profession

Sandra Day O'Connor is sworn in a Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice Warren Burger. At center, holding two family Bibles, is her husband, John O'Connor (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Sandra Day O’Connor not only had a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Stanford University in California, but also a law degree she earned from the same institution in just two years.

And yet, she couldn’t find a job as a lawyer after graduating from law school in 1952, mainly because she was a woman, according to The Atlantic.

But this year marks the 40th anniversary of the moment O’Connor’s perseverance and determination paid off, with her forever etched in American history.

In 1981, O’Connor was sworn in as the first-ever woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

That distinction didn’t seem feasible to be dreamt about, let alone achieved, in her years after graduating law school.

O’Connor moved to Arizona to start a family with her husband, John Jay O’Connor, in the ’50s, but she still eyed a legal career.

“I couldn’t get a job in a law firm because law firms wouldn’t hire woman lawyers,” O’Connor said in 2011 at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “That was back in 1957. It couldn’t be done. I had to figure out some way to practice law and do some of the things I wanted to do in the legal profession.”

So O’Connor decided to run for a judge position in Arizona, but back then, judges in Arizona were elected, not appointed.

O’Connor wasn’t elected -- mainly because her opponent was able to raise more money, but the knowledge and exposure gained in the process helped serve as a springboard to history.

After serving as assistant attorney general of Arizona from 1965-69 and becoming the first woman to serve as Arizona’s state majority leader in 1973, O’Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan to replace the retiring Potter Stewart.

O’Connor’s confirmation hearings were the first hearings for a Supreme Court justice ever to be televised, and she was eventually confirmed by a 99-0 vote in the Senate before being sworn in on Sept. 25, 1981.

O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court in 2006, and to this day, is an advocate of states appointing judges through their qualifications, not through elections that require lots of money to conduct.

Currently, there are three women serving on the high court: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett, following in the trail O’Connor blazed four decades ago.


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