Sandra Day O'Connor announces dementia diagnosis

The former Supreme Court Justice said she will be withdrawing from public life

Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice and an Arizona native, announced in a letter to friends and America that she would be stepping down from public life due to dementia Tuesday morning. 

O’Connor, 88, was appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981 after serving two terms in the Arizona State Senate. ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law was named after the retired justice in 2006. 

As the first female on the high court, O’Connor paved the way for many changes in America around the treatment and placement of women in power, according to those who worked with her and spoke at an ASU ceremony in her honor last month.

"Some time ago, doctors diagnosed me with the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer's disease," she wrote in the letter. "As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life." 

In the letter, O'Connor touched on her ongoing commitment to civic engagement that led her to start the iCivic program, an educational tool for students, as well as her long service in public life.

See More: ASU, Phoenix honor first female Supreme Court Justice

"I hope that I have inspired young people about civic engagement and helped pave the pathway for women who may have faced obstacles pursuing their careers," she wrote. "My greatest thanks to our nation, to my family, to my former colleagues, and to all the wonderful people I have had the opportunity to engage with over the years." 

In the letter, O'Connor said that she would remain in Phoenix.

"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," she wrote. 

Sarah Suggs, the President and CEO of the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute released a written statement shortly after the announcement.

“With the release of the public letter from Sandra Day O’Connor announcing her stepping back from public life, the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute expresses profound gratitude for her leadership and inspiration,” she said. “The O’Connor Institute is deeply committed to the lifetime work of the Justice to advance civic engagement, civil discourse and civics education.”

Suggs also spoke about the founding of the institute.

“Founded by Justice O’Connor in 2009, the Institute works to build consensus, form collaborations and help craft solutions to vital public issues in an environment of mutual respect and shared purpose for a better nation.”

President Crow tweeted about the announcement, commending the former Justice.


This is story has been updated to include a statement from Sarah Suggs and a tweet from president Crow. 


Reach the reporter at isaac.windes@asu.edu or follow @isaacdwindes on Twitter.

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