Chief Justice Extols Legacy of Sandra Day O’Connor


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Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered a fond tribute to former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on Thursday, celebrating her legacy as the first woman on the Supreme Court and her commitment to advancing civics and civility after her retirement.

During an award ceremony at Duke University to recognize her contribution to civics education, Chief Justice Roberts reiterated his admiration of his former colleague, a crucial swing justice who was often referred to as the most powerful woman in America. He eulogized her in December shortly after her death at 93.

“Sandra Day O’Connor expanded the public image of what it meant to look like a judge,” he said. “She sounded the alarm about the growing lack of appreciation of what it means to be a citizen.”

For her work in civics education, she was recognized on Thursday with the Bolch Prize for the Rule of Law, an award that has often been given to honor judges, including former Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for lifetime achievements. The award was accepted by her son Scott O’Connor.

The paths of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice O’Connor have long intersected.

On his first day of work at the Justice Department in 1981, the young Mr. Roberts was assigned to help prepare the future justice for her confirmation hearings in the Senate, putting together draft answers to questions he expected her to face. She was ultimately confirmed by a vote of 99 to 0.

Justice O’Connor would then sit on the bench for every one of the more than three dozen cases Chief Justice Roberts argued before the Supreme Court as a lawyer, he told the audience on Thursday.

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