Update on O'Connor Resignation News

Madeleine Brand offers an update of news connected to the resignation of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

The top news story today--Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court, has announced her retirement from the bench. O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Today, President Bush spoke about her 24 years on the high court.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: America is proud of Justice O'Connor's distinguished service, and I'm proud to know her.

BRAND: Sandra Day O'Connor was perhaps the most important swing vote on the court. She sided with conservatives to end the hand recount in the 2000 presidential election, quashing Democrat Al Gore's claim to the presidency. But she led a five-justice majority in 1992 that reaffirmed American women's right to an abortion.

Justice O'Connor was born in 1930 and raised on a ranch, the Lazy B, in southeastern Arizona. She remembered her childhood in this 2002 interview.

Justice SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR (Supreme Court): I wanted to be a cattle rancher when I grew up. I thought it was a great way to live. My parents at the end of their lives thought there was no better life than the one they had led on that ranch.

BRAND: O'Connor left the ranch, though. She went to California where, in 1952, she earned her law degree at Stanford University, graduating third in her class where Chief Justice William Rehnquist graduated first. Still, because she was a woman, O'Connor could not get a job at a law firm, so she returned to Arizona in 1970 and was elected to the state Senate as a Republican. She was later picked by Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, to serve on the Arizona Court of Appeals. In 1981, Ronald Reagan appointed her as the first woman to be nominated for a Supreme Court seat, and the Senate gave her quick, unanimous confirmation. She quickly became a powerful force on the court. Justice Harry Blackmun, one of the court's great liberals, called her a fine justice, able and articulate.

O'Connor was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988. She missed only two weeks of deliberations during her treatment. Along with her duties on the Supreme Court, O'Connor managed to write a book about her childhood on the Lazy B ranch, which he says shaped her personal and legal beliefs.

O'CONNOR: Perhaps ranch life teaches one to have a certain amount of self-confidence, a certain belief in some basic values of hard work and decency and honesty.

BRAND: Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced today she is retiring from the Supreme Court. NPR will bring you more on this developing story throughout the day.

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