(WOMENSENEWS)–1981: Judge Sandra Day O’Connor of the Arizona Court of Appeals is nominated as the first woman justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. O’Connor had a long career of public service, beginning as an assistant attorney general in Arizona, then a state senator and a trial court judge there before President Reagan nominated her to the highest court.

O’Connor, with a law degree from Stanford University, began her law career by starting her own practice because established firms would not hire a woman.

Initially a solid conservative vote, O’Connor later developed into a jurist who seeks a centrist position on the divided Rehnquist court. She has been the key justice in retaining abortion rights, however, she was the fifth vote in three recent anti-civil rights decisions.

O’Connor, a breast cancer survivor, will have been on the Supreme Court for 20 years in September. She is widely believed to be considering retirement.