On this day in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was unanimously confirmed (will we ever see that again?) by the Senate as the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Some had misgivings about what they perceived as the first woman chosen to serve on the Court, being one who had benefited from the feminist movement without participating in it. But her stature rose throughout her tenure and transcended these concerns. She has also been a model for the civic engagement by a retired Justice since leaving the Court in 2006.
Justice Powell was especially welcoming of Justice O’Connor, and they became fast friends. She told Powell biographer, John C. Jeffries, “Justice Powell was the only Justice whom I felt absolutely free to visit with about issues in argued cases.” When speaking at a W&L Law event honoring the 100th anniversary of Justice Powell’s birth, almost a decade after Powell’s death, O’Connor’s no nonsense public speaking demeanor was briefly interrupted by emotion as she spoke of their friendship.