Proposal – Sandra Day O’Connor

Carson Berrier: Proposal

Sandra Day O’Connor is one of the most famous faces of women’s history—the first woman to be nominated and appointed to the Supreme Court in 1981. Retiring in 2006, O’Connor served on the Supreme Court for many years, making and ruling decisions that would impact the country for years to follow. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, her role and name would go down in history books as someone who acted as the deciding vote during her time on the Supreme Court. In the days after her nomination on July 7th and leading up to her confirmation and swearing in on September 25th, 1981, printed media such as Time Magazine published pieces in response to her nomination. The proposed research will examine Time Magazine’s July 20th 1981 issue that followed Sandra Day O’Connor’s nomination to understand a politically moderate magazine’s reaction to a woman being nominated for the Supreme Court.

            During a time when most political positions were filled by men, Sandra Day O’Connor rose to the front lines of politics after President Reagan nominated her for the role of Supreme Court Justice. Her seat, previously filled by Associate Justice Potter Stewart, who chose to retire, was a chance for President Reagan to keep his campaign promise and gain a foothold in the Supreme Court while gaining popularity with the women’s equality movement. O’Connor’s nomination was one that had many different reactions from members of the government and the public alike.

            The proposed paper will analyze Time Magazine’s July 20, 1981 issue to understand what a moderate magazine’s reaction was to Sandra Day O’Connor, a woman, being nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States. The importance of a position being filled by a woman in the United States’ highest court was one that had varying reactions, but some believed that having a smart, well-educated, and politically versed woman was just what the Supreme Court needed.  Highly thought of by her congressional co-workers, past law professors, and members of Reagan’s cabinet, O’Connor’s nomination broke the barrier for women in politics. 

            The primary sources that support the proposed research include magazine issues, official nomination documents, and President Reagan’s announcement of her nomination, which was recorded on video. The main primary source used to support the proposed research is Time Magazine’s July 1981 issue titled “The Brethren’s First Sister: Sandra Day O’Connor.” This source provides a firsthand look into the reactions of Sandra Day O’Connor’s nomination and includes quotes from President Reagan and past figures in her life. This source also examines some vital background on O’Connor’s life and her path towards becoming a Supreme Court Justice. This source makes it possible to understand the differences of a woman being nominated for the first time versus a man being nominated as had been in the past. Another primary source that is impactful to this project’s research is the video itself of President Ronald Reagan nominating Sandra Day O’Connor. The quotes that he states give a look into his viewpoint and thoughts as he made that historic decision. Together, these sources, along with some others, create the narrative surrounding the nomination process of Sandra Day O’Connor. 

            The secondary sources for the proposed research topic include several books about her nomination and articles covering the hurdles she overcame with the nomination. Understanding where O’Connor came from and her path forward towards politics is vital to understanding the background to her nomination. In an issue of Newsweek, authors engage with her life before her nomination and how she became the choice that President Reagan made to fill the Supreme Court Seat. Scott Bales’ article in the Stanford Law Review provides a basis of her professional knowledge which was vital to her being chosen as the pick for the empty seat. A more recent newspaper article from AZ Central discusses the impact of this nomination in today’s significance but has roots that are important to understanding O’Connor’s nomination. This article also contains an interview with O’Connor’s sons and their thoughts on her role on the Supreme Court. A documentary by CBS looks at her nomination in a form that tells her nomination’s significance in more of a story-like way. The multitude of sources provide a look into the background of Sandra Day O’Connor which is vital to understanding the significance of her nomination. 

The research that will examine Time Magazine’s July 20th 1981 issue following Sandra Day O’Connor’s nomination will help to understand the reaction of a moderate piece of media in the United States. Through the examination of primary and secondary sources, the importance of Sandra Day O’Connor’s nomination will be revealed. 

I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this assignment… – Carson Berrier 


Primary Sources:

Magnuson, Ed. “The Brethren’s First Sister: Sandra Day O’Connor.” Time Magazine, July 20, 1981.

Ronald Reagan Nominates Sandra Day O’Connor to Serve as the First Female Member of the Supreme Court ca. 1981

Supreme Court Justices Discuss the Complexity of Their Role ca. 1988: WPA Film Library, 2007.

Secondary Sources:

Bales, Scott. “In Honor of Sandra Day O’Connor: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: No Insurmountable Hurdles,” Stanford Law Review 58, no. 6 (April 2006): 1705

Bush, Vanessa. Review of Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice, by Joan Biskupic. Booklist Vol 102, no. 3 (October 2005): 4.

Biskupic, Joan. Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice. Harper Collins Publishing, 2009.

Hansen, Ronald. “Spectacle of Sandra Day O’Connor’s 1981 confirmation hearing foreshadowed today’s politics.” AZ Central, March 15, 2019. Accessed September 25, 2021.

McFeatters, Ann Carey. Sandra Day O’Connor: Justice In the Balance. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. 

Thomas, Evan, Stuart Taylor Jr., Andrew Murr, Pat Wingert, Eleanor Clift, and Susannah Meadows. “Queen of the Center; The Swing Vote: She’s a Cowgirl from Sagebrush Country, a Pioneer Who defied the Odds. The Life and Legacy of a Moderate Justice.” Newsweek 146, no. 2 (July 11, 2005): 24-31.

Justice O’Connor New York, NY: Columbia Broadcasting System, 2004

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