Arizona congressional delegation, other leaders honor Sandra Day O'Connor

By Sky Schaudt, Chelsey Heath, Wayne Schutsky
Published: Friday, December 1, 2023 - 1:01pm
Updated: Saturday, December 2, 2023 - 2:13pm

Every Republican and Democrat representing Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives came together on the House Floor to honor retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who died Friday.

Republican Debbie Lesko reflected on O’Connor’s legacy as the first woman majority leader at the Arizona State Senate and first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"She’s not only a wonderful woman and representative of Arizona but a wonderful American. And we are saddened by her passing, but she set the trail for all of us women," Lesko said.

Democrat Greg Stanton also praised O’Connor’s contributions after retiring from the court, including the creation of the Sandra Day O’Connor Center for American Democracy and her namesake College of Law at Arizona State University.

He called O’Connor the most influential Arizonan in history.

"She brought her Arizona brand of pragmatism and independence with her to the Supreme Court and was often the swing vote on deeply consequential decisions," said Stanton.

Stanton, Lesko and their colleagues led a moment of silence on the House Floor in O’Connor’s honor.

Many Arizona leaders also released statements on Friday, sharing memories and recognizing O'Connor's contributions to the state and the country.

Steve Gallardo, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors: "Sandra Day O'Connor was the embodiment of what makes Arizona great: tough, independent, and above all, civil," said Steve Gallardo on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. "She was respected on both sides of the political aisle because she treated everyone with respect.  So much has been and should be said about her trailblazing: first woman to serve as Arizona Senate majority leader, first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.  But I also admire her work after she left the bench, creating an institute that promoted civil discussion of important national and local issues.  There will never be another Sandra Day O'Connor, but we should all aspire to be a little more like her."

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego: “Justice O’Connor was a pioneer from day one — a young, self-sufficient daughter of ranchers who blazed a trail to serve in the highest court in the country. She shattered glass ceilings at every turn in her life, from pursuing a law degree at Stanford during a time when many schools did not accept women, to challenging workforce barriers, to being an active working mom. She was an inspiration to me and to so many other Arizonans,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said. “I will remember Justice O’Connor for her fierce determination to make a difference through dialogue, her dedication to the law, and her strong advocacy and passion for civics education. One of my favorite experiences as Mayor is speaking with young Arizonans at her namesake ‘Camp O’Connor’ to encourage them to get involved in government and pursue leadership roles at school and in their communities. Her legacy will endure.”

U.S. Congressman Ruben Gallego: “Sandra Day O’Connor was an Arizona trailblazer who dedicated decades to serving both our beautiful state and country. The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Sandra broke barriers everywhere she went. Sydney and I send our condolences to her family, friends, and the countless people she has inspired. Arizona will miss her.”

Thomas Galvin, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair: “Sandra Day O’Connor and Arizona are synonymous. They are intertwined by the manifestation of independence, grit, determination, and just plain hard work. No doubt, Sandra Day O’Connor was a trailblazer in many respects: first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, first female majority leader of the Arizona State Senate. What I admired most about Justice O’Connor, however, was her follow through and her make-it-happen attitude. She simply rolled up her sleeves and got to work, and got the job done, no matter the obstacles or the adversity. Sandra Day O’Connor was an exemplary public servant whose Arizona roots ran deep and true.  She will be missed."

Bill Gates, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair: “In celebrating the life and legacy of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, I reflect on her remarkable journey from her family’s Arizona cattle ranch to the halls of the Supreme Court. She will be remembered for her pioneering spirit, intellect, and commitment to justice – all of which she used when she became the first woman to ever serve on the United States Supreme Court. Beyond her legal prowess, Justice O'Connor's Arizona roots were integral to shaping her character and perspective, embodying the resilience and tenacity that we Arizonans are proud of. As we bid farewell to this trailblazing jurist, we honor not only her profound contributions to the judiciary but also the indelible mark she left on the Grand Canyon State and America. You made your state and country proud, Justice O’Connor.”

Clint Hickman, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair: "I remember the first time I met Justice O'Connor," said Clint Hickman, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors chair. "I was a senior in high school spending the week in Washington, D.C. as a part of a Peoria High School government group. It was spring of 1983 so she'd just been appointed to the bench by President Reagan. It must have been a whirlwind time for her, with so many demands on her time. But she pulled all of us Arizona kids aside, took us into the Supreme Court chambers, and talked to us about the work of American democracy. She made us feel valued.  I think it's that rural background, where you slow down enough to be decent to people. She never forgot that. I admire the way she went about her work—whether in the legislature, on the bench, or in retirement—without seeking credit or attention. Justice O'Connor made Arizona proud."

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs: “Throughout her entire career, as an Arizona legislator, judge, and Supreme Court Justice, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor embodied the humility and civility that is at the core of what it means to be a public servant" said Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs. "Justice O’Connor first broke barriers when she was elected Arizona Senate Majority Leader, becoming the first woman to ever serve in that role in the United States. Her trailblazing career continued when she became the first woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, where she was the decisive vote in some of the most critical court cases in our nation’s history. Justice O’Connor’s impact continued far beyond the bench, with a lifelong commitment to civic engagement and civil discourse, which is more important than ever. Her legacy will forever be ingrained in the fibers of our state and nation’s history. The hearts of every Arizonan are with her and her family today as we mourn the loss of a true trailblazer.”

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly: "Sandra Day O’Connor was a great Arizonan and a great American. She's someone Gabby and I both really looked up to. Her brilliant, thoughtful legal career leaves a legacy in our law and in the generations of young girls who were inspired by her trailblazing example.”

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes: "I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. She set a powerful example of leadership for so many to follow," said Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes. "Even before her appointment to the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor’s trailblazing leadership here in Arizona cemented her place in the history of our state. Her humble beginnings on the Lazy B Ranch near Duncan, Arizona was just the start. It was something I always admired about her: how she went from my own beloved rural Arizona, to the marbled halls of the Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor exemplified service leadership throughout her career: Arizona Assistant Attorney General, first woman State Senate majority leader in the country, Maricopa County Superior Court judge, Arizona Court of Appeals judge, and first woman Supreme Court Justice. An icon. My thoughts are with Justice O’Connor’s family and loved ones during this time."

U.S. Congressman David Schweikert: “Sandra Day O'Connor led a remarkable life as our nation's first female Supreme Court Justice. An iconic daughter of Arizona, she blazed trails for women everywhere. She was an esteemed jurist who often played a pivotal role on the Supreme Court," said U.S. Congressman David Schweikert.  “I was fortunate to first meet Justice O'Connor as a teenager when she was kind enough to spend a few minutes of her time with a group of Arizona Teenage Republicans from Saguaro High School at the Arizona State Capitol as she was making her meteoric rise in state politics, leaving a lasting impression that I still hold with me to this day. She represented the best of Arizona throughout her extraordinary life, and we are better off because of her contributions and commitment to public service. My prayers are with her family as we mourn her passing.”

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema: “Justice Sandra Day O'Connor — Arizona’s original cowgirl — paved the way for countless women like me in law and life. She was fiercely independent just like Arizona, and she worked tirelessly to do what's best for our state and country. Arizona and America are grateful for her service and leadership," said U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in a release. “My heart is with her family and loved ones. Our state and country will miss her dearly.”

Benjamin Taylor, State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors president: “Justice O'Connor was a trailblazer who dedicated her life to public service," said Benjamin Taylor, State Bar of Arizona Board of Governors president. "She broke barriers throughout her life and career, eventually becoming the first female Justice appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. During her time on the court, she was often referred to as the most powerful woman in America, and that legacy will live on. Thank you, Justice O'Connor, for sharing your wisdom and life with the people of Arizona and the entire nation.”

Hon. Joseph C. Welty, presiding judge of the Judicial Branch in Maricopa County: "Sandra Day O’Connor was a towering Arizona figure, even before she was appointed as the first female Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. From her formative days on the Lazy B Ranch in southeastern Arizona to her time at Stanford University to her relentless public service at the state and national levels, Justice O’Connor was a leader among her peers, a legacy that will live on through her institute dedicated to promoting the ideals of civil discourse and civics education. In Arizona, she has the distinction of serving in each branch of government. After working in private practice for a number of years in Phoenix, she became an assistant attorney general at the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. In 1969 she was appointed to a vacancy in the Arizona Senate; she won election to the seat in 1972 and was named as majority leader, the first woman to hold such a role in any state’s upper legislative chamber. In 1974, Justice O’Connor left the legislature to pursue her career as a jurist, first at the Superior Court in Maricopa County (1975-1979) and then as a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals (1979-1981). Justice O’Connor was a founder of both the Arizona Women Lawyers Association and the National Association of Women Judges. She was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981 where she served until retirement in 2006. When nominated by President Reagan, she was the first person appointed to the nation’s court in 24 years who had state court experience and the first justice in 32 years with lawmaking experience. Her impact is still felt today. Beyond her “firsts,” Justice O’Connor was a dedicated public servant and professional who pursued the Rule of Law for all and the fairness and impartiality of the Judicial Branch. She was known for her pragmatism and dispassionate approach to difficult issues, the hallmark of her career as a jurist. Today, her legacy lives large for the more than 160 judicial officers and 3,000 employees of the Judicial Branch in Maricopa County. All our thoughts and prayers are with her family."

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