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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Reveals She Has Dementia

University Of Mount Union

Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman on the supreme court, has revealed that she has the early symptoms of dementia and "probably Alzheimer's disease."

In a letter published Tuesday, O'Connor, 88, said that she was diagnosed "some time ago" but is "no longer able to participate in public life" because of her symptoms.

"How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our country."

Sandra Day O'Connor
O'Connor in 2016.Gage Skidmore - Flickr

O'Connor, who has not made a public appearance in more than two years, wanted to make things clear with her dramatic letter to the public, which was released by the Supreme Court.

"Since many people have asked about my current status and activities, I want to be open about these changes, and while I am still able, share some personal thoughts," she wrote.

While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life. How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our country. As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sandra Day O'Connor
Chief Justice Warren Burger swears in O'Connor in 1981. Her husband John (pictured center) also suffered from Alzheimer's disease.National Archives and Records Administration

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, O'Connor's son Jay revealed that his mother was beginning to experience short-term memory loss and relied on a wheelchair, so she chose to remain close to her home in Phoenix, Arizona.

"When she hit about 86 years old she decided that it was time to slow things down, that she'd accomplished most of what she set out to do in her post-retirement years," he explained.

"It's all right to be the first to do something, but I didn't want to be the last woman on the Supreme Court."

Before serving on the Supreme Court, O'Connor had become the first woman to lead the Arizona state senate.

But she is still best known for becoming the first woman on the nation's highest court, after being nominated for the seat in 1981, at age 51, by former President Ronald Reagan.

Sandra Day O'Connor and Ronald Reagan
Justice O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Since then, three others have joined her.The Ronald Reagan Library

"It's all right to be the first to do something," O'Connor said about her history-making appointment in 2012, "but I didn't want to be the last woman on the Supreme Court,"

Three other women have joined the court since then, all of whom still serve today: Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan.

O'Connor presided over many important cases, including 2000's Bush v. Gore, which settled that year's controversial presidential election.

O'Connor was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in 2009.

Sandra Day O'Connor
O'Connor in 2006.Kyle Tsui - Flickr

O'Connor announced her retirement in 2005, at age 75, citing her own declining health and her husband John's own case of Alzheimer's disease.

But even after leaving the bench, she kept an office at the Supreme Court until just this summer, continued to appear as a visiting appeals court judge, wrote a children's book about the Supreme Court, continued to speak out publicly about political issues, and founded her own organization devoted to education.


We're wishing Justice O'Connor all the best, as she deals with this terrible condition.

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