Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Has Dementia
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, released a statement this week stating she has the beginning stages of dementia, “probably Alzheimer’s disease.”
In 2005, Justice O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court to take care of her husband who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Below are statements by current and former Justices regarding Justice O’Connor’s announcement.
Statement of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.:
I was saddened to learn that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, like many Americans, faces the challenge of dementia. But I was not at all surprised that she used the occasion of sharing that fact to think of our country first, and to urge an increased commitment to civics education, a cause to which she devoted so much of her time and indomitable energy.
Justice O’Connor is of course a towering figure in the history of the United States and indeed the world. She broke down barriers for women in the legal profession to the betterment of that profession and the country as a whole. She serves as a role model not only for girls and women, but for all those committed to equal justice under law. Although she has announced that she is withdrawing from public life, no illness or condition can take away the inspiration she provides for those who will follow the many paths she has blazed.
Statement of Justice Clarence Thomas:
Virginia and I are deeply saddened to learn that our friend, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is withdrawing from public life because of dementia. During the fifteen years that we spent together on the Court, she was the embodiment of kindness, dignity, and civility. She is truly a wonderful person and a national treasure. There will always be a special place in my heart for her.
Statement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Justice O’Connor made a surprise appearance one night in the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of Henry the Fifth. Playing the part of Isabel, Queen of France, she spoke the famous line: “Hap’ly, a woman’s voice may do some good.” Sandra Day O’Connor’s voice has done enormous good in the pursuit of justice for all in our land and world. She has done more to promote collegiality among the Court’s members, and with our counterparts abroad, than any other Justice, past or present. In her work and days, she strived mightily to make what was momentous for women in 1981, the year she was appointed to the Court, no longer extraordinary, but entirely expectable. In that effort, I am among legions of women endeavoring to follow her lead.
Statement of Justice Stephen Breyer:
Like all of your colleagues and millions of Americans I was sorry indeed to learn of your decision not to participate further in public life. Your letter brought back so many memories. I remembered those years, so happy for me, when you were an active colleague on this Court. I learned so very much from you. For example, that common sense and law are compatible; that listening to others helps; that head and heart can be combined; and, that, leaving aside the matter of judicial decisions, much else can be done to help others in this Country if you put your mind to it – promoting civic education for example. I’m very glad that you decided, after retirement, to continue to devote your enormous energy and talent to building up iCivics — to the point where it has become the critical resource it is today for those committed to improving civics education. I agree with you that few things are more important than teaching the next generation of Americans how their Government works and why they must participate in it if it is to work successfully.
I miss your warmth, your sense of humor, that Western touch, and of course your legal mind. You, my friend, will take your place in history, not just as the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, but also as one of its greatest Justices.
Statement of Justice Samuel Alito:
I was deeply saddened to read Sandra’s letter this morning and to learn of her deteriorating health. Her historic contributions to the work of the Supreme Court will always be remembered. And the American people owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for her dedication to public service, which continued unabated after her retirement and shines through in today’s letter. I will greatly miss her visits to the Court. I hope that the days ahead will be peaceful for Sandra and her family. Martha-Ann and I will keep them in our prayers.
Statement of Justice Sonia Sotomayor:
Just a little over two years after I graduated from law school, Sandra Day O’Connor was named the first woman Justice of the United States Supreme Court. That moment inspired me, as it inspired so many others, to see the legal profession as a calling that would welcome women in all its aspects. I could never have guessed that decades later I would have the opportunity to serve alongside, and befriend, my own role model and one of our country’s great role models.
Sandra has been a trailblazer for all of her life. Today, with the courage, grace, and directness that she is known for, she tells us all that she must step away from her public work. Like so many, I am deeply saddened by this news. But I am also once again heartened and inspired by her: even as she steps back, Sandra’s commitment to our country and its civic life is at the forefront of her passions.
Just as she helped spark so many legal careers, including my own, Sandra has kindled in me and many others a renewed devotion to civic education and participation. The organization that she founded, iCivics, continues her legacy of transforming civic education for American youth, and its board of directors, of which I am a member, will continue to support and expand its work. As her letter says, Sandra was dedicated to reaching every child in America. We at iCivics are determined to meet her challenge—and to ensure that my friend and colleague, Sandra Day O’Connor, will continue to advance American public life forever.
Statement of Justice Elena Kagan:
Sandra Day O’Connor became a Supreme Court Justice as I was preparing to go to law school, and she has served as an inspiration to me ever since. In shattering glass ceiling after glass ceiling, she showed how women could take part as equals in the legal profession. As one of the most important Supreme Court Justices ever, she modeled how good judgment and true wisdom enhance judicial decisionmaking. And in her retirement, her commitment to civic education bettered our nation. I am deeply saddened to learn that Justice O’Connor is now confronting dementia. I hope she knows, even as she does so, how many women and men are indebted to her for the example she has set and the work she has done.
Statement of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch:
Sandra Day O’Connor has been a trailblazer her whole life. As the first woman to serve on our highest court, she inspired generations. After her retirement, she worked tirelessly to promote appreciation for our Constitution. Even today, she uses her announcement to encourage young people to its service. Sandra Day O’Connor is a national treasure.
Statement of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh:
With her wisdom and grit, Justice O’Connor has inspired all Americans and made the United States a more perfect Union. In the spring of 2017, I went with my then-eight-year-old daughter Liza to the Supreme Court for a tour. I took a photo of Liza in front of Justice O’Connor’s portrait at the Court because I wanted my daughter to understand and remember that Sandra Day O’Connor paved the way for girls in America to achieve their dreams. Justice O’Connor will always be a role model for all Americans.
Statement of Justice John Paul Stevens (Retired):
Sandra Day O’Connor’s statement is completely consistent with her character and her entire career for the many years I have known her. She is a wonderful person and a true inspiration to her colleagues and for the whole country.
Statement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy (Retired):
For many years, one of my most exciting and memorable privileges on the Court was to have the honor of serving with Justice O’Connor, and, even more, of having her as an admired, close personal friend. Her statement today reminds the nation that we must carry on her dedicated work to ensure that our democracy is strengthened so that it always will inspire all who seek freedom for themselves. She has our best wishes for the years ahead and our lasting thanks.
Statement of Justice David H. Souter (Retired):
None of Justice O’Connor’s friends can be surprised that she has spoken her farewell from our public life by emphasizing that every one of the rest of us bears responsibility for restoring and maintaining civic education in the United States. Her statement has made it clear beyond any doubt that it is up to us to work now, as she has worked since leaving the Court: that we have “got to do something.” Just like her.
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