Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Announces She Has Dementia

By Claire Caulfield, Ariana Bustos
Published: Monday, October 22, 2018 - 4:20pm
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2018 - 7:27pm
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Sandra Day O'Connor speaking at a court tower dedication in 2012.

Arizona icon Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, is withdrawing from public life at 88 years old.

She announced in a letter she has the beginning stages of dementia and possibly Alzheimer's disease.

Chief Justice John Roberts says he is "saddened” by the news but "no illness or condition can take away the inspiration she provides for those who will follow the many paths she has blazed."

O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and was also the first woman to lead the Arizona Senate.

In a statement, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey wrote, "in countless ways, Justice O’Connor has led the life of a pioneer. From a cattle ranch in Arizona with no running water or electricity, to the highest court in the land, Justice O’Connor broke barriers at every turn."

On the Supreme Court, her votes were key in cases about abortion, affirmative action and campaign finance as well as the Bush v. Gore decision effectively settling the 2000 election in George W. Bush's favor.

This summer she turned over her office at the high court to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who recently retired.

After leaving the court in 2006 to help care for her ailing husband, O'Connor kept active. She served as a visiting court of appeals judge, spoke on issues and founded her own education organization. But O'Connor made her last public appearances over two years ago.

Her son, Jay O'Connor, said his mother began to have problems with her short-term memory, which made some public events more difficult. He said due to hip issues she usually uses a wheelchair and stays close to her home in Phoenix.

Over the past year, O'Connor's sons Jay and Brian O'Connor cleared out her Supreme Court office and donated items to the court's collection, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. 

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