Kelsey Reichmann

WASHINGTON (CN) — The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, died at the age of 93 on Friday morning, according to a court statement.

O’Connor retired in 2006 after sitting on the high court bench for over two decades. According to a statement from the court, her death was the result of complications associated with advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease, and a respiratory illness.

Chief Justice John Roberts said the court mourned the loss of its colleague, calling O’Connor a fiercely independent defender of the rule of law.

​​“A daughter of the American Southwest, Sandra Day O’Connor blazed a historic trail as our nation’s first female justice,” Roberts said in a statement. “She met that challenge with undaunted determination, indisputable ability, and engaging candor.”

O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 after serving only two years on Arizona’s high court. Her nomination marked the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Her confirmation was unanimously approved by the Senate.

During her tenure, O’Connor was essential to upholding the right to abortion — recently overturned by the Supreme Court. She cast the swing vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, affirming Roe v. Wade. She also consistently voted in favor of women’s interests.

As the high court's critical swing vote, O'Connor served as a decider of major issues before the court like affirmative action, sex discrimination and voting rights. She was also known for her moderation, attempting to temper the reach of controversial rulings.

O’Connor retired from the bench in 2006 to care for her husband, John O’Connor, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 2009.

After stepping down, O’Connor founded a civics education platform, iCivics, focused on educating Americans on civics and government.

The Supreme Court did not provide details on the late justice’s funeral. She is survived by three sons and six grandchildren.

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