This Month in History: September 21st, 1981

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‘All humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ The UN has held this doctrine as one of the essential components of its declaration of human rights ever since the start of its foundation. However, we see that this statement cannot always be maintained to be true as the slight differences between individuals sometimes cause different opportunities in their rights.

The US Supreme Court was also one of the places where there hasn’t been an equal representation of everyone. Mainly, the gender of the 9 justices was not very diversified and it was almost always men who were situated in these positions. Historically, there were 11 female justices throughout a period of 71 years, 4 of whom are currently serving the court right now. This shows that female participation has increased over the past few decades in the justice system. How did this happen?

It all began from President Reagan’s pledge in 1980 that he would select the first female Supreme Court judge to make sure that women were not excluded from legal decisions. While there was no formal restriction on women becoming a Supreme Court judge before this, it was quasi impossible for this to happen since the appointment of the judges was done with a favor for the male judges.

The year after, when President Regan became president, he kept his pledge by nominating Sandra Day O’Connor to become a justice in the Supreme Court. She was to replace Potter Stewart who was retiring. When the news of her nomination spread, there were numerous retaliations to this decision as the idea of the first female justice was radical for many religious groups and politicians. In addition, anti-abortionists expressed their concerns that she would pass abortion laws as she had mentioned previously. There were also views that Sandra Day O’Connor was too much of a feminist who would not be suitable for the original ideology of the court.

Nevertheless, by proving that she was a hard-working person with objective views, O’Connor was able to be confirmed as a Supreme Court judge on September 21, 1981, with a 99–0 vote from the US Senate.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s election was monumental to the US legal system. She inspired many young women both in and outside of the justice field that anyone could become what they aspired to be. She also had a memorable tenure by maintaining abortion laws and making sure that women’s rights were preserved. This was what all led to the enhancement in the awareness that all Supreme Court justices should be men and that women should have an equal representation. Today, she is best remembered as the first female Supreme Court judge but certainly not the last one.

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