Late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor honored at Supreme Court ceremony

WASHINGTON — Mourners paid their respects to the trailblazing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the Supreme Court on Monday, a day before her funeral service.

O’Connor, a savvy consensus builder who was the first woman to serve on the court, died Dec. 1 at the age of 93.

Her body will lie in repose in the Supreme Court’s Great Hall all day Monday.

O’Connor’s casket arrived at the court at around 9:30 a.m., and Supreme Court police officers carried it into the building.

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's flag-draped casket is carried up the steps of the Supreme Court
Sandra Day O’Connor’s flag-draped casket at the Supreme Court on Monday. Mark Schiefelbein / AP
Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff  walk past a portrait of Sandra Day O'Connor.
Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff at the Supreme Court on Monday.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff were among those who visited the court while the casket was on display.

Earlier, justices and family members honored O’Connor during a ceremony next to her casket, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor calling her a “life role model.” Sotomayor noted that the late former justice was enthusiastic about bringing the Supreme Court judges together for lunches, dinners and barbecues, movies and theater, and even visits to museums.

“They were about bringing us closer to one another and ensuring that we got to know each other as full people,” Sotomayor said. “She knew the value of this.”

Sotomayor said she’ll never forget the day O’Connor was nominated to become the first woman on the high court.

“I knew that Sandra would open up the door for women in the law and serve as an inspiration to girls across the country,” she said. “Later on, she would often say that it was good to be the first but don’t want to be the last. Sandra was a living example that women could take on any challenge, could more than hold their own in spaces dominated by men, and could do so with grace.”

 Sonia Sotomayor speaks during a private service
Justice Sonia Sotomayor during a private service for Sandra Day O’Connor at the Supreme Court on Monday.Jacquelyn Martin / AP Pool
Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Anthony Kennedy listen during a private ceremony
Justices Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh,Amy Coney Barrett, Ketanji Brown Jackson and retired Justice Anthony Kennedy during a private ceremony for Sandra Day O’Connor at the Supreme Court on Monday.Jacquelyn Martin / AP Pool

Members of the public will be able to pay their respects at the court from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

President Joe Biden remained in Wilmington, Delaware, on Monday, where he often spends his weekends. Monday is also the anniversary of the car crash that killed his first wife, Neilia, and 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, in 1972, and the Biden family marked the occasion with a private memorial mass. He will return to Washington on Tuesday to attend O’Connor’s funeral, where he will eulogize the former justice along with Chief Justice John Roberts.

The funeral service will take place at the Washington National Cathedral, a site often used to honor high-profile government officials such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The invitation-only service will be livestreamed for the public.

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

She sometimes sided with the court’s conservatives, most notably in 2000 when the court ended the Florida recount in the presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, ensuring that Bush won the election.

But she joined with the court’s liberals in affirming abortion rights and upholding affirmative action in college admissions, among other things.

As the court has moved further to the right in recent years, her legacy has been undermined, with the 6-3 conservative majority ending the constitutional right to abortion and the consideration of race in college admissions.