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May 04, 2009

A Tribute to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Madam Speaker, I rise today to honor Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, on the occasion of her recognition as a ``Person of the Century'' by the Rotary Club of Los Angeles in celebration of their Centennial year.

In a year where we witnessed the first African-American assume the Office of the President of the United States, it is especially appropriate to honor a woman who shattered the marble ceiling of the United States Supreme Court some 28 years ago and served as an important role model for so many in this Nation.

Born in El Paso, Texas in 1930, Sandra Day O'Connor spent several of her early years growing up on her family's ranch in Arizona. Later, in 1950, she graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in economics, followed by a juris doctorate in 1952. In 1952, she married John Jay O'Connor, Ill, and they have three sons. After working for a time in both California and Germany, Sandra Day O'Connor again took up residence in the state of Arizona.

In Arizona, O'Connor held positions in both law and politics, working as an Assistant Attorney General and serving in the State Senate, appointed by the Governor to fill a vacancy. After twice winning reelection to the State Senate, she ran for the position of Judge in the Maricopa County Superior Court of Arizona in 1974. While a judge she gained a reputation for being firm but just, and she would later be appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

In 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor made history after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan for the position of Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. She received unanimous Senate approval, becoming the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

During her tenure on the Court, Justice O'Connor gained a reputation for approaching each case with an open mind and for seeking out practical solutions to complex legal issues. Her pragmatic and centrist approach had an important moderating influence on the Court, and her independent philosophy had an important impact on a number of seminal cases. In 2006, Justice O'Connor retired after serving over 24 years on the Court.

Justice O'Connor and I have a shared belief in the need for an independent judiciary and a shared desire to improve relations between our branches of government. As founder and Co-Chair of he Congressional Caucus on the Judicial Branch, I had the distinct pleasure of hosting Justice O'Connor in the U.S. Capitol, just before her retirement, for an event designed to jointly promote these common goals.

I consider it an honor to recognize Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and ask my colleagues to join me in commending her on the occasion of her recognition as a Rotary Club of Los Angeles ``Person of the Century.''