Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor says she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and will step away from public life. O’Connor, 88, was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan as the first female Supreme Court justice of the United States in 1981.
O’Connor served on the nation’s highest court for nearly a quarter century and cast pivotal votes in cases involving women’s reproductive rights, prisoner’s rights, and campaign finance laws.
In a beautiful letter released by the Supreme Court’s Public Information Officer Tuesday, O’Connor wrote:
I want to share some personal news with you.
Some time ago, doctors diagnosed me with the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease. As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life. Since many people have asked about my current status and activities, I want to be open about these changes, and while I am still able, share some personal thoughts.
I will continue living in Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by dear friends and family. While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life. How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our country. As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
I hope that I have inspired young people about civic engagement and helped pave the pathway for women who may have faced obstacles pursuing their careers. My greatest thanks to our nation, to my family, to my former colleagues, and to all the wonderful people I have had the opportunity to engage with over the years.
God bless you all.
Sandra Day O’Connor
Chief Justice John Roberts praised O’Connor in a statement Tuesday as a “towering figure” and a “role model not only for girls and women, but for all those committed to equal justice under law.”