Her death was a result of dementia and a respiratory illness, according to a statement released by the US Supreme Court.
Justice O’Connor made history when she was appointed to the US Supreme Court, America’s highest court, in 1981. She was a conservative and was appointed by former president and republican Ronald Reagan.
US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement that O’Connor “met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor,” Justice Roberts said. He added that she was a “fiercely independent defender of the rule of law, and an eloquent advocate for civics education.”
She served as a justice for over two decades and retired in 2006 to care for her ill husband, John Jay O’Connor. Samuel Alito was appointed by President George W Bush as O’Connor’s replacement. John Jay O’Connor died in 2009.
Justice O’Connor broke political ground for women in more ways than one. She was appointed to the Arizona State Senate in 1969, becoming the first woman anywhere in the US to serve as a majority leader in a state senate.
During her tenure at the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor made many significant decisions. One of the most notable being her 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v Casey, which reaffirmed women’s right to abortion.
She addressed the public in 2018 in an open letter, stating she had been diagnosed with dementia.
“How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our county,” she wrote. “As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the US Supreme Court.”
“I hope that I have inspired young people about civic engagement and helped pave the pathway for women who may have faced obstacles pursuing their careers.”
Justice O’Connor is survived by three sons and six grandchildren.