Supreme Court, public, pay tribute Sandra Day O’Connor

By Andrew Chung and John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court and members of the public on Monday will pay tribute to Sandra Day O’Connor, the court’s first female justice, who died on Dec. 1 at age 93.

O’Connor, a centrist on the court who was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1981, served until her retirement in 2006. Her body will lie in repose inside the court’s Great Hall, with the public invited to pay their respects starting at 10:30 a.m. (1530 GMT). A private ceremony is planned before the public viewing begins.

O’Connor died in Phoenix, Arizona, of complications related to advanced dementia and a respiratory illness. She had been diagnosed with dementia and announced in October 2018 that she was withdrawing from public life.

Although a conservative, she became the court’s ideological center. Her knack for building consensus helped her control decisions on the most contentious issues of her era.

She created a critical alliance in 1992 to affirm the central holding in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal nationwide. She also was a crucial vote in 2003 to uphold campus affirmative action policies that were used to increase the number of underrepresented minority students at American colleges.

The Supreme Court, which now has had a 6-3 conservative majority, overturned the landmark Roe ruling in 2022, and in June struck down race-conscious admissions programs in higher education, effectively prohibiting affirmative action.

After leaving the bench, O’Connor dedicated herself to improving civics education, starting a group called iCivics that provided free online resources for middle school and high school students.

Monday’s tribute will include Supreme Court police officers serving on the casket team, with honorary pallbearers designated by the family. The casket will be placed on the Lincoln Catafalque, a pine board platform covered in black cloth that was used to support President Abraham Lincoln’s coffin when he lay in state in the Capitol’s Rotunda after his assassination in 1865.

The catafalque was loaned to the court by the U.S. Congress for the ceremony. A 1999 portrait of O’Connor by Danni Dawson will be on display in the hall. The public viewing will continue until 8 p.m. (0100 GMT).

A private funeral will be held for O’Connor at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Jonathan Oatis)