The formal announcement of the establishment of the award and of its inaugural honoree, Justice O’Connor herself, came November 11, 2021, at the Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit in Austin, Texas.
Justice O’Connor is an alumna of the NJC who enrolled in the College’s flagship course for new judges, General Jurisdiction, shortly after her election to the Superior Court of Maricopa County, Arizona, in 1974. She served on the Arizona Court of Appeals for two years starting in 1979. In 1981, President Reagan nominated her to become the first female member of the U.S. Supreme Court. She took office the same year. She retired in 2006.
In her more than 24 years on the Supreme Court, Justice O’Connor established a reputation as a pragmatist rather than someone bound by ideology. She was seen as a swing vote on many major cases, including those involving reproductive rights, legislative districting and separation of church and state.
In 2018, Justice O’Connor announced her retirement from public life after disclosing that she had been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s-like dementia.