Stanford reflects on alum Sandra Day O'Connor's impact as 1st woman on the Supreme Court

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Sunday, December 3, 2023
Stanford reflects on alum Sandra Day O'Connor's impact
Stanford University graduate Sandra Day O'Connor is being remembered for her grit and inspiring legacy as the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Sandra Day O'Connor is being remembered for her grit and inspiring legacy.

O'Connor's exceptionalism was evident as one of the few women admitted at Stanford University in the 1950's.

Stanford Law Professor Bernadette Meyler said O'Connor's years at the university were significant.

"I think people, especially women felt like she blazed a trail that people wanted to follow in," Meyler said.

It was there O'Connor met her classmate and future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

She also met her husband.

"She had been an important member of the Law Review when she was at Stanford. She met her husband famously through the Law Review through late night editing," Meyler said.

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After law school, O'Connor had trouble finding a firm that would hire a woman.

Her first job was as a law clerk with then-San Mateo County District Attorney Keith Sorenson.

San Mateo District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said Sorenson was a close friend of hers.

"In my office of 66 prosecutors- 42 are women and 24 are men and every one of them knows it was Sandra Day who punched a hole in that ceiling made it where you know what- to be a good prosecutor you just need to be a good lawyer," Wagstaffe said.

O'Connor ended up working for state government and eventually made her way to the high court. In 1981, she made history as the nation's first woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

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Meyler said she was a jurist with integrity and practical sense.

"She was a jurist who was focused on not only getting the doctrine right, but also how the judicial decisions that she was involved in would hit people," Meyler said.

On October 5, 1981- O'Connor's first day as a justice of the Supreme Court- five students from Stanford proclaimed a day of celebration at the Law School. O'Connor said it was one of the most touching tributes she had received.

"Coming from west coast school right now, we see the Supreme Court is very heavily dominated by particular east coast schools by Yale and Harvard. I think that she brought a different perspective not only by being a former legislator, but coming from a different area geographically," Meyler said.

Meyler said when she met O'Connor in 2007, she was incredibly gracious and supportive.

"I think she just had a lot of perseverance and a lot of stick-to-itiveness and approached things with a very positive and welcoming attitude as well," Meyler said.

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