Remembering Lane Center Advisory Council Member Emerita, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Sandra Day O'Connor addresses 113th Commencement Ceremony Stanford Stadium.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor addresses Stanford graduates at the 113th Commencement Ceremony at Stanford Stadium in 2004. Photo by Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

In remembering the late Sandra Day O'Connor, BA '50, LLB '52, the Bill Lane Center for the American West reflects on the remarkable legacy of this trailblazing Supreme Court Justice, with gratitude for her service to the Western region. From 2008 to 2015, Justice O'Connor served as a Lane Center Advisory Council member, leaving an enduring mark on both the Center and the broader Stanford community. As the first woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court, O'Connor's unwavering commitment to justice and profound connection to the American West were hallmarks of her distinguished career.

Hailing from El Paso, Texas, Justice O'Connor spent her formative years on her family's remote Arizona cattle ranch, acquiring skills like shooting and riding by the age of eight years old. After earning undergraduate and law degrees on the Farm, O'Connor began her legal career as the Arizona Assistant Attorney General. She later was appointed by the Governor of Arizona to a vacant seat in the Arizona Senate before transitioning to the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1974. From 1975 to 1979, she served on the Arizona State Court of Appeals.

In a historic move in 1981, President Reagan nominated her as the 102nd Supreme Court Justice, and, notably, the first woman to join the highest court in the land.

David Kennedy, co-founder of the Bill Lane Center, has fond memories of working with O'Connor at the Lane Center, noting the Western roots that tied the judge to the Center's mission: "Justice O’Connor grew up, as she liked to say, in the Gadsen Purchase in present-day Arizona. She remained ever after a proud Daughter of the West, and she brought that sensibility, as well as her incisive intellect and infectious charm, to her service on the Bill Lane Center for the American West’s Advisory Council. We continue to honor our considerable debt to her in our ongoing effort to establish Stanford as the premier site for the study of the Western region.”

Sandra Day O'Connor's association with the Bill Lane Center was a testament to her deep commitment to understanding and preserving the distinctive history and culture of the American West. Shaped by her early experiences with ranching in the arid Southwest, on the border of Arizona and New Mexico, her perspective enriched the Center's discussions, providing an authentic voice to the exploration of uniquely Western issues.

Beyond her role as a legal luminary, Sandra Day O'Connor was a dedicated advocate for education and the study of American history. Her involvement with the Bill Lane Center reflected her belief in the importance of comprehending the West's complex past, as well as its current challenges and future possibilities.

As the nation mourns the loss of an extraordinary legal mind, the Bill Lane Center for the American West pays tribute to Sandra Day O'Connor, a remarkable "Daughter of the West" whose impact will be felt for generations. The Center remains committed to upholding her vision and legacy, ensuring that Stanford stands as a beacon for the study of the American West.

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