On this day in history…

Sandra Day O'Connor waves after her unanimous confirmation by the US Senate to the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on September 21, 1981. Photograph: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, a milestone for women’s rights.

O’Connor’s rise to the top of the American judiciary came in 1981, by which time O’Connor had already served as an assistant attorney general, a state senator and an appeals judge for Arizona. Not a bad résumé. And all the more impressive considering the only job she was offered following graduation from Stanford Law School was as a legal secretary.

On September 21, 1981, O’Connor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate with a vote of 99–0.  In her first year on the Court she received over 60,000 letters from the public, more than any other justice in history.

In response to a carelessly-written editorial in The New York Times which mentioned the “nine old men” of the Court, the self-styled FWOTSC (First WOman On The Supreme Court) sent a pithy letter to the editor:

I noticed the following ….:

Is no Washington name exempt from shorthand? One, maybe. The Chief Magistrate responsible for executing the laws is sometimes called the POTUS [President Of The United States].
The nine men who interpret them are often the SCOTUS [Supreme Court Of The United States].
The people who enact them are still, for better or worse, Congress.

According to the information available to me, and which I had assumed was generally available, for over two years now SCOTUS has not consisted of nine men. If you have any contradictory information, I would be grateful if you would forward it as I am sure the POTUS, the SCOTUS and the undersigned (the FWOTSC) would be most interested in seeing it.

Sandra D. O’Connor, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, October 12, 1983, “High Court’s ’9 Men’ Were a Surprise to One”, The New York Times, October 5, 1983 re: (First Woman On The Supreme Court); William Safire, “On Language; Potus and Flotus”, The New York Times Magazine, October 12, 1997. Retrieved December 7, 2007

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