Lecture five—Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Selden Society 2016 Lecture Series

Lecture five—Justices of the US Supreme CourtJustice Sandra Day O’Connor was presented by The Hon Justice Margaret McMurdo AC on 27 October 2016.

When I was first looking for work, they just weren’t hiring women, period. Today as a woman with talent and interest and energy, you ought to be optimistic.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 2013

Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to be appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Throughout her long and distinguished legal career she has borne witness to changing attitudes and opportunities for women in the law.

Born in 1930 in El Paso, Texas, O’Connor grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona and attended school in El Paso. She graduated from Stanford Law School in 1952. Her early career suffered from a number of setbacks including being denied interviews with dozens of law firms on the basis of her gender. Securing her first job as deputy county attorney in California, O’Connor worked for free to gain a career foothold. However, from 1969 she served in a number of important roles in Arizona—holding both judicial and political office.

30 years later, in 1981, the newly elected Republican President, Ronald Reagan, chose Sandra Day O’Connor as his first nominee to serve as a Justice of the Supreme Court. Her nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate shortly afterwards.

Justice O’Connor served on the Supreme Court for 24 years. During this period, she became one of the most influential members of the Court. At a time when difficult cases were apt to produce a strong division of opinion on the Court between conservative and liberal viewpoints, her moderate and more narrowly expressed approach regularly proved to be decisive of the outcome.

Justice O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court in 2006. She was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

About the Speaker

As the first woman appointed as presiding judge of an Australian appellate court, the Hon Justice Margaret McMurdo AC explores Sandra Day O’Connor’s influence on generations of women lawyers and judicial officers, in the United States and Australia.

The Hon Justice Margaret McMurdo AC graduated Bachelor of Laws from the University of Queensland (1975) and served as clerk and then associate to Judge Demack in the District Court and the Family Court of Australia (1975–76). She was admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Queensland in December 1976 and worked in the Public Defender’s Office from 1976 to 1989, holding the office of assistant public defender (1978–89). She then practised at the private Bar in Brisbane (1989–91) holding a commission to prosecute.

Justice McMurdo’s inaugural judicial and extra-judicial roles include the first woman to be appointed to the District Court of Queensland (January 1991), the first woman appointed as the presiding judge of an Australian appellate court (second President of the Queensland Court of Appeal—appointed July 1998) and a founding committee member and president of the Women Lawyers Association.

Justice McMurdo was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2003 and received the Queensland Law Society’s Agnes McWhinney Award in 2006. She was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2007. She holds honorary doctorates from Griffith University (2000), Queensland University of Technology (2009) and the University of Queensland (2012).

Speakers notes

Download the paper from lecture five—The Hon Justice Margaret McMurdo on Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

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Produced by Supreme Court Library Queensland.

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