I couldn’t let the day pass without noting a significant achievement in U.S. and legal history.

No, it’s not the death of Wyatt Earp in Arizona way back in 1900 (though that’s a good one, too).

President Reagan and his Supreme Court Justice nominee Sandra Day O’Connor at the White House, July 15, 1981.

More noteworthy, and more likely to be remembered in another hundred years, is this: It was on this day in 1981 that an Arizona Court of Appeals Judge named Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to sit on the United States Supreme Court.

By September of that year, she had been confirmed as the nation’s first woman Supreme Court Justice.

Thirty years later, her legacy is felt in a raft of the Court’s opinions. Back then, it didn’t take long for Court watchers and average Americans to forget that she was “the Lady Justice,” and to focus instead on her opinions. And they loved ’em or hated ’em, just as they did with “the boys’” opinions.

But the influence she wielded as a woman made a difference too. Back in early January, she admitted to a small gathering that she has been pleased to see the way made slightly less bumpy for other women who have the chops to serve on the Court. Now, she noted with a smile, there are three women Justices.

I reported before on her address to a group at the State Bar of Arizona’s Law School for Legislators. Her memories of judging and lawmaking in the state were poignant. But when one questioner asked her about her nomination to the Court, she recalled the raucous summer of 1981.

She admitted that she had tried not to think too much of it, even after she had been invited to the White House for a presidential sit-down. There are always a lot of candidates, she recalls thinking. But when she got the actual offer, she faced the daunting prospect of convincing herself and her husband—staunch westerners both—that moving east was not such a bad idea.

 

The four women who have served on the Court (from left to right: O’Connor and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan) on Oct. 1, 2010, prior to Justice Kagan’s Investiture Ceremony.

Thirty years later, we’re happy she and John decided to pack up the U-Haul and venture into a new challenge. Happy anniversary.

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