At a Tuesday funeral service for Sandra Day O'Connor, President Joe Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts spoke about her life and work as the first woman to serve as a US Supreme Court Justice.
Here's what you need to know about the funeral at Washington National Cathedral:
Biden hailed Sandra O'Connor's work for empowering women: "Sandra Day O'Connor,the daughter of the AmericanWest, was a pioneer in her ownright, breaking down thebarriers of legal and politicalworlds and the nation'sconsciousness," he said. Under great pressure and scrutiny, she helped "empowergenerations of women," "opendoors, secure freedoms, andprove that a woman can not onlydo anything a man can do,"but many times do it "a heck ofa lot better," he said, adding she was "gracious and wise, civil andprincipled."
Roberts said she was so successful in breaking barriers that they seem "unthinkable" today: "Sandra Day O'Connor had to studyand launch a career in the lawwhen most men in the establishedprofession did not want womenlawyers — let alone judges," he said, adding the measure of her life and work is that "younger people today cannotunderstand what it was like before Justice O'Connor." Roberts also remembered O'Connor'sapproach at the court as "simple and direct: Get it done."
Historian says the Supreme Court building was O'Connor's "temple": Evan W. Thomas III described how the late Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was"the glue" of the Supreme Court,recalling how she encouraged the justices to get to know each other outside of the chamber. Thomas described her dedication to the law, saying she "found her church" in Washington, DC. "Her temple, you might say,was the white marble building onFirst Street,NE," he said, referring to the Supreme Court building in the city.
O'Connor had stepped down from the court to take care of her husband: She retired in 2006 to care for her husband who was ailing from Alzheimer’s disease. President George W. Bush would go on to nominate Justice Samuel Alito to take her seat.
Jay H. O’Connor, the son of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, called his mother a “force of nature” — but admitted she had been keeping a secret.
“Years ago, while going throughmy mom's papers, I came across abox containing her report cardsfor middle school and highschool,” he said. “Sandra Day O’Connor once got a Bin civics.”
"In the presence of thepresident, the Supreme Courtjustices and all of you today, Iask you this:Based on her 40-year dedicationto promoting the rule of lawand democracy at home andabroad, do you think she'searned enough extra credit toraise that lowly B in civics toan A?" her son asked the crowd, to applause from President Joe Biden and other attendees.
He said “most of all, she loved her family" and was a mom in every aspect — from grocery shopping to taking care of her kids, all with a demanding career. He described her energy and her love of dancing.
"Mom and dad absolutely loved todance and they were known as thebest dancers in Washington.In this city, it was notuncommon for the dance floor toclear the moment they stepped onto it hand in hand," he said, adding that his mom was the first person on the Supreme Court with "technicaltraining in disco dancing."
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts paid tribute to Sandra Day O'Connor's career that broke barriers.
"She was so successful that thebarriers she broke down arealmost unthinkable today," he said.
Remarking her achievement as the first female Supreme Court justice, Roberts said:
"Sandra Day O'Connor had to studyand launch a career in the lawwhen most men in the establishedprofession did not want womenlawyers — let alone judges"
Roberts added that she has to "find her own style tocajole, persuade and unitecolleagues when there was noexample to follow."
"She had to ignore slights andwork to bring people together insocial, professional, andpolitical life.She had to demonstrateexcellence as the 102nd memberof the Supreme Court, all thewhile setting a model as thefirst woman on the job," he said.
The measure of her life and work is that "younger people today cannotunderstand what it was like before Justice O'Connor and whatnow seems a distant past."
"In nearly a quarter century onthe the court, she was a strong, influentialand iconic jurist.Her leadership shaped the legal professional,making it obvious that judgesare both women and men.The time when women were not onthe bench seemed so far awaybecause Justice O'Connor was sogood when she was on the bench," Roberts said.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor'sapproach at the court "was simple and direct: Get it done," current Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in his eulogy Tuesday.
"The way she participated in oralargument at the court is a goodexample.Justices have many differentstyles on the bench.Some like the back and forth ofdebates, others pose unusualhypotheticals, some badgercounsel to get concessions.Others spell out a particulartheory at length and ask forcomment.Now all this is fine and good, Chief Justice Roberts said.
"But Justice O'Connor wasdifferent.After the advocate had gottenthrough only a couple sentences,the justice would jump in beforeher colleagues could with awell-prepared question.The question was clear, direct,even enunciated carefully.It went to the heart of thelawyer's case with no fluff.Her approach was: let's getwhat's most important to me onthe table at the outset.Get it done."
Roberts also recalled her asking him before he was confirmed to be the Supreme Court chief justice to hire her law clerks "or they won't have jobs" since she was about to retire. "She saw a problem for theclerks and a solution.She wanted to get it done."
Evan W. Thomas III, a historian and author, described how the late Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was "the glue" of the Supreme Court, recalling how she encouraged the justices to get to know each other outside of the chamber.
"At the court's weeklylunches, only about half ofjustices showed up," he said."So she made it her business tomake the justices come to lunch — not to talk about cases or argueover the law, but to get to knoweach other."
"If they didn't go to lunch, shewould go to the chambers andjust sit there until they did," he added.
Thomas described her dedication to the law, saying she "found her church" in Washington, DC.
"Her temple, you might say,was the white marble building onFirst Street,NE," he said, referring to the Supreme Court building in the city.
Sandra Day O’Connor empowered generations of women, President Joe Biden said in his eulogy Tuesday.
Under great pressure and scrutiny, she helped "empowergenerations of women in everypart of American life, includingthe court itself; helping opendoors, secure freedoms, andprove that a woman can not onlydo anything a man can do,"but many times do it "a heck ofa lot better," he said.
O'Connor also valued the civic life of America, communities, friendships and family, he said.
Addressing her family, Biden said he hoped they hold on to the love she had for them.
"What a gift!I hope that you find comfort inanother profound consequence ofher service — the countlessfamilies that she helped byspeaking so openly about yourfamily's experiences.It matters," he said.
"May God bless Sandra DayO'Connor, an American pioneer," he concluded.
President Joe Biden opened his eulogy Tuesday by recounting the 1981 day that the US Senate Judiciary convened for the nomination of Sandra DayO'Connor "to become the firstwoman in American history toserve as a Supreme Court justiceon the United States SupremeCourt."
"Announcing her nominationearlier that summer, PresidentReagan described her as — and I quote—"a person of all seasons."And it was a person for allseasons that we saw at thishearing and the Americans andthe world would see through herextraordinary service as ajustice, and I might add as acitizen:Gracious and wise, civil andprincipled," Biden said.
He continued: "Sandra Day O'Connor,the daughter of the AmericanWest, was a pioneer in her ownright, breaking down thebarriers of legal and politicalworlds and the nation'sconsciousness."
A funeral service for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has started at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.
The funeral comes a day after members of the public had an opportunity to pay their respects in front of the Supreme Court — where O’Connor laid in repose.
It’s traditional for late justices to lie in repose at the Supreme Court.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the second woman to join the high court — became the first woman to do so following her death in September 2020. The late Justice John Paul Stevens also laid in repose following his death in July 2019.
President Joe Biden is expected to deliver remarks at the memorial service, the White House said.
CNN'sSamantha Waldenberg contributed reporting to this post.
President Joe Biden has arrived at the National Cathedral for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s memorial.
The president is scheduled to deliver remarks memorializing the late justice as part of the memorial service this morning.
Biden is seated next to Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su in the first pew of the cathedral — also seated in his row are Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and her husband David Davighi, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and her husband Robert Skidmore, and Bruce Reed.
I am an enthusiast with a deep understanding of legal history, particularly the United States Supreme Court and the life and work of justices. My expertise is evident in the intricate details and historical context I can provide about Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and the funeral service held in her honor.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was a trailblazer, serving as the first woman on the United States Supreme Court. President Joe Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts both highlighted her groundbreaking contributions at her funeral. Biden praised O'Connor for empowering women, breaking down barriers in the legal and political worlds, and demonstrating that women could excel in any field. Roberts emphasized that O'Connor's success in breaking barriers is so significant that younger generations cannot comprehend the challenges she faced.
Historian Evan W. Thomas III described O'Connor as the "glue" of the Supreme Court, emphasizing her role in encouraging justices to build relationships outside the courtroom. He portrayed the Supreme Court building as O'Connor's "temple," underscoring her dedication to the law and her pivotal role in shaping the legal profession.
O'Connor's son, Jay H. O'Connor, shared a personal anecdote, revealing that his mother once received a B in civics. He humorously questioned whether, based on her 40-year dedication to promoting the rule of law, she had earned enough extra credit to raise that grade to an A. Jay H. O'Connor also highlighted his mother's love for her family, describing her as a dedicated mom who excelled in both her demanding career and personal life. He shared anecdotes about her and her husband's prowess as dancers, noting her technical training in disco dancing.
Chief Justice Roberts provided insights into Justice O'Connor's approach at the court, describing it as "simple and direct: Get it done." He highlighted her unique style during oral arguments, where she would cut to the core of the case with clear and direct questions, embodying efficiency and effectiveness.
In summary, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's funeral service was a tribute to a legal pioneer who not only broke down barriers but also played a crucial role in fostering relationships among justices and shaping the legal landscape. The speakers at the funeral emphasized her dedication to the rule of law, her impact on empowering women, and her unique and effective approach as a Supreme Court justice.