The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University has announced that Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, will be awarded the 2009 Radcliffe Institute Medal at the annual Radcliffe Day luncheon on Friday (June 5). Barbara J. Grosz, dean of the Radcliffe Institute, will give opening remarks and present the medal to O’Connor, who will deliver the keynote address.
Each year during Harvard-Radcliffe Commencement week, the Radcliffe Institute bestows its medal on an individual whose life and work have substantially and positively influenced society. This year, Radcliffe celebrates O’Connor’s pioneering role on the U.S. Supreme Court as well as her enduring commitment to the law and society. O’Connor’s public service record spans more than five decades, including 25 years as an associate justice on the Supreme Court, and she has been a tireless advocate for a U.S. judiciary that is both independent and cognizant of its role within a global framework.
O’Connor began her career in public service in 1952, after earning both her LL.B., with membership in the Order of the Coif honor society, and her B.A., with great distinction, from Stanford University. Initially serving as deputy county attorney of San Mateo County in Arizona, she went on to work as a civilian attorney in Frankfurt, Germany. She later returned to Arizona and became the assistant attorney general for that state.
In 1969, she was appointed to the Arizona State Senate, on which she served for three consecutive terms. She spent the last three years of her tenure in the role of Senate majority leader, becoming the first woman to hold that office anywhere in the United States. O’Connor was then elected judge of Arizona’s Maricopa County Superior Court, after which she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. Her journey through the three branches of the Arizona state government culminated in the history-making appointment for which she is now best known: In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated her to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; the nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. As the first woman on the Supreme Court, O’Connor came to be known for her practicality, centrist position, and coalition-building abilities.
O’Connor’s retirement from the Supreme Court in 2006 has neither weakened her resolve nor slowed her efforts to powerfully advocate for a judiciary that acts without regard to personal or public preferences. She also continues to emphasize the necessity for the U.S. judiciary to be well versed in international law to be better positioned to act effectively within the global community. Among O’Connor’s notable civic activities is the Sandra Day O’Connor Project on the State of the Judiciary at Georgetown University Law Center, which was established to raise public awareness about judicial independence and facilitate discussion among experts and practitioners of the law about the court system.
O’Connor’s numerous awards and honorary degrees include the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center, the World Justice Award from the Southern Center for International Studies, and the Sylvanus Thayer Award from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She has also been inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. O’Connor is the author of the book “The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice” (Random House, 2003), among many other publications.
The Radcliffe Day luncheon (12:30 p.m.) is open to Radcliffe and Harvard alumnae/i and their guests.