Top of page

On This Day: Sandra Day O’Connor Appointed to Supreme Court

Share this post:

This is a guest post by Jeff Harris, Presidential Management Fellow.  Jeff previously wrote about the Right of Publicity for College Athletes in Video Games.


Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division []
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division []

I’m not a math person (though I did get a 100 on my senior year high school calculus final), but I can still appreciate the importance of numbers. Though it is possible to manipulate and twist numbers to make a point, there are also times where numbers can prove highly informative and illustrative. For example…


On this day 36 years ago, President Ronald Reagan announced that he would appoint Sandra Day O’Connor to the United States Supreme Court. Fulfilling a promise he made on the campaign trail to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court, Reagan officially nominated O’Connor on August 19, 1981. At the time, then Judge O’Connor sat on the Arizona Court of Appeals after a term in a superior court and multiple terms in the Arizona Senate. This announcement and eventual nomination and confirmation put her in some exclusive company because …


On this day 36 years ago, this is the combined number of justices who had served on or, at that time, sat on the Supreme Court. It includes iconic names such as John Marshall, Louis Brandeis and Thurgood Marshall. Over the course of almost two centuries, these 101 justices would hear landmark cases such as McCulloch v. Maryland, Brown v. Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade. Despite all of these big names and high-profile cases, Reagan’s announcement illuminated another number…


On this day 36 years ago, this is the number of women who had served on the Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor would become the first woman to hold a seat on the highest court in the land, helping open the door for more female judges at all levels of the judiciary.

Justice O’Connor not only served as a trailblazer for women in the law, but also authored many influential opinions over her tenure on the Court. Some of the most pivotal case opinions she authored include:

  • Planned Parenthood v. Casey; 505 U.S. 883 (1992)
    • This case dealt with constitutionality of certain provisions of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act of 1982.
  • Grutter v. Bollinger; 539 U.S. 306 (2003)
    • This case looked at the use of racial considerations in the University of Michigan’s admissions’ procedures.

I have one more number to throw out:


I know I used this number out before, but I’m using it again for a different reason. Just looking back on this day in 1981, the number one movie at the box office was Raiders of the Lost Ark; Mario was two days away from making his video game debut in the arcade game Donkey Kong; and the world eagerly awaited the Royal Wedding between Lady Diana and Prince Charles.

I am pointing all of this out to show that a lot can change in 36 years (obviously). In the last 36 years, the Supreme Court has seen not only the first woman on the bench, but three more follow that sit on the bench today. There is no telling how the court will look in another 36 years, but there is no doubt of the significance of this announcement and of Justice O’Connor had in shaping the American judiciary.


  1. This is a test!

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.