Sandra Day O'Connor Reveals Dementia Diagnosis

Clay Curtis
October 24, 2018

"In all aspects of her life Justice O'Connor has been a transparent leader, and being forthcoming about her diagnosis is another demonstration of this", the Alzheimer's Association said in a statement.

Retired Supreme Court justice Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is speaking out about her health.

Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor revealed in a letter on Tuesday that she has been diagnosed with the "beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer's disease". She gracefully danced around politically dicey questions from senators but made a point, on national television, of noting their commitments to reduce crime and fix overloaded federal courts.

"As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life", 88-year-old O'Connor said in a statement.

When President Ronald Reagan nominated her to the court in 1981, she was plucked from a relatively obscure mid-level state judgeship in Arizona, where she was on the state's Court of Appeals. She announced her retirement from the top court after 24 years in 2005, stepping down in January 2006.

O'Connor's announcement of her diagnosis came a day after an Associated Press story in which her son Jay O'Connor said that his mother had begun to have challenges with her short term memory. She took part in key votes that included Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003, allowing state colleges and universities to use affirmative action in their admissions, and the Bush v. Gore case, which stopped the recount in Florida that officially made George W. Bush as the US president in 2000.

O'Connor's departure from the court marked a moment much like the present one.

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She was also the swing vote on Bush v. Gore, the case that settled the 2000 presidential election for George W. Bush - a decision she later lamented.

He called her a "towering figure in the history of the United States", breaking down barriers for women. John O'Connor died in 2009.

Asked in 2009 how she felt about the court retreating from or undoing rulings she was instrumental in shaping, she responded: "What would you feel?"

Sandra Day O'Connor, seen here testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1981, served for 24 years on the Supreme Court. If you think you've been helpful, and then it's dismantled, you think, 'Oh, dear.' But life goes on.

She spoke of the program she wrote, iCivics, which teaches children across the country.

"We must reach all our youth, and we need to find ways to get people ― young and old ― more involved in their communities and in their government", she said.

O'Connor, who became an influential author of decisions on abortion rights, racial affirmative action, criminal procedures, and an array of social dilemmas during her quarter century tenure, also has had a deep personal imprint on American life.

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