Justice Sandra Day O’Connor funeral to include eulogies by Biden and John Roberts

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts delivered eulogies Tuesday at the funeral of the pioneering Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

O’Connor, “a daughter of the American West, was a pioneer in her own right, breaking down the barriers in the legal and political worlds and the nation’s consciousness,” Biden said in remarks at the service held at the Washington National Cathedral.

Biden said that to O’Connor, the Supreme Court “was a vital, vital line of defense for the values and the vision of our republic, devoted not to the pursuit of power for power’s sake but to make real the promise of America.”

The president noted that she was the last Supreme Court justice to have previously held elected office, having served in the Arizona state Senate before her appointment to the high court. That experience, Biden said, made her “especially conscious of the law’s real impact on people’s lives.”

O’Connor helped to empower women across America, including at the high court, Biden said, “helping to open doors, secure freedoms, and prove that a woman cannot only do anything a man can do, but many times, do it a heck of a lot better.”

In his remark, Roberts said that every justice has different styles on the bench during oral arguments in a case.

“Some like the back and forth of debates. Others pose unusual hypotheticals, some badger counsel to get concessions. Others spell out a particular theory at length and asked for comment,” Roberts said. “But Justice O’Connor was different. After the advocate had gotten through only a couple sentences, the justice would jump in before her colleagues could with a well-prepared question. The question was clear, direct, even enunciated carefully. It went to the heart of the lawyer’s case with no fluff. Her approach was let’s get, get what’s most important to me on the table at the outset, get it done.”

Roberts laid out all of the barriers O’Connor had to overcome to become the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

“Sandra Day O’Connor had to study and launch a career in the law when most men in the established profession did not want women lawyers, let alone judges. She had to find her own style to control persuade and unite colleagues when there was no example to follow for the first female Senate leader in the country,” he said. “She had to ignore slights and work to bring people together in social, professional and political life. She had to demonstrate excellence as the 102nd of the Supreme Court, all the while setting the model as the first woman on the job.”

As the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, O’Connor was a genuine trailblazer. She also played a key role for years as a moderate on the conservative court.

O’Connor died Dec. 1 at the age of 93.

The funeral service was held at the Washington National Cathedral, the location of many similar events featuring prominent figures. O’Connor regularly attended services at the cathedral and served on its governing board.

Jay O’Connor, one of the late justice’s three sons, also spoke, as did her biographer, Evan Thomas.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's casket is carried into the Supreme Court on Monday.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s casket arrives at the Supreme Court on Monday.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

O’Connor lay in repose at the Supreme Court on Monday, with members of the public able to pay their respects. A brief ceremony was held in the morning, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor describing O’Connor as a “life role model.”

After being appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, O’Connor was for many years before her retirement in 2006 a crucial swing vote on the then-closely divided court, often casting the deciding vote in the most contentious cases.

The court’s shift further rightward in recent years has led to her legacy being unwound, as the 6-3 conservative majority has overturned some of the moderate rulings she helped craft, including a 1992 decision that upheld the right to abortion.