Sandra Day O'Connor

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12352

The U.S. Supreme Court has been around for well over 200 years but it took almost 200 years for the court to have its first woman justice! Find out why this lady was so special and suited for the job!


United States, United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • What makes this woman so special?

Sandra Day O'Connor

Image by the Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Sandra Day O’Connor holds a significant role in American history and government.

By serving as the first woman Supreme Court justice, she opened the door for more women to become involved in government. As you read about the life and legacy of Sandra Day O’Connor below, create a list of her accomplishments.

Sandra Day O’Connor was born on March 26, 1930, and spent most of her childhood in Arizona, where her family owned a ranch. O’Connor was a skilled horse rider and performed many of the duties around the ranch. These experiences taught her the importance of hard work.

O’Connor went to college at Stanford University, which is considered by many to be one of the best colleges in the United States. She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, which is the study of money and wealth. Then, she went to law school and became a lawyer. After college, O’Connor practiced law in California, Arizona, and Germany.

After working for several years as a lawyer, O’Connor decided she would like to play a greater role in law and government. She held several different government positions, including state senator, judge for a county court, and assistant attorney general, all in Arizona. An attorney general is a lawyer for the state government. It is the biggest job a lawyer can have in a state. Throughout her career, O’Connor was recognized for being fair and taking the time to research her decisions.

In 1981, O’Connor’s accomplishments were recognized when President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to be a justice on the Supreme Court. A woman had never held this position before. According to the U.S. Constitution, the president nominates a justice for the Supreme Court when a justice dies or resigns. The Senate is then responsible for interviewing the candidate and voting on whether or not the candidate will be selected. O’Connor was officially appointed to the Supreme Court by a unanimous Senate vote. As a Supreme Court justice, O’Connor continued to be known for being fair. She did not always vote in favor of political groups that supported her; rather, she voted for what she thought was right and sought to uphold the U.S. Constitution. The image below shows O’Connor being sworn in as a Supreme Court justice.

Sandra Day O'Connor Being Sworn in a Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice Warren Burger, 1981

Image by the White House Photographic Office, via The U.S. National Archives on flickr, is in the public domain.

When a Supreme Court justice is appointed, they serve for life or until they retire. In 2006, O’Connor retired to spend more time with her family. Even after she retired, she continued to be involved in politics and wrote books for adults and children. O’Connor also founded a website, iCivics, which is used to teach American children about the way government works. In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded O’Connor with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest award a non-veteran can receive in the United States for service to their country.

You will continue learning about Sandra Day O’Connor by watching a short video. As you watch Biography's Sandra Day O'Connor: Mini Biography, continue to add to your list of O’Connor’s accomplishments:

When you are finished watching the video, use the list you created to help you answer the following questions. You can answer the questions on a separate piece of paper or in the space provided below:

Review your responses with your teacher or parent.

Then, move on to the Got It? section to learn more about some of the most important Supreme Court cases O’Connor was involved with.

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