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The Virtues of Sandra Day O’Connor


On September 25, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court after receiving a unanimous confirmation vote from the Senate. Justice O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Regan and served 24 years on the Court before her retirement. Prior to her time on the Court, O’Connor served as the first female Majority Leader of the Arizona State Senate, as well as a judge.  After her retirement, Justice O’Connor stayed active in civic education, eventually creating two non-profits–iCivicsand the Sandra Day O’Connor Institute. On August 12, 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. In this lesson, students will have an opportunity to listen to Justice O’Connor and identify the private and civic virtues that the Justice exemplified throughout her life 



  • Before class: introduce/ review the virtues from handout A and have students answer the following. 
    • In your own words, define these virtues. 
    • Who are some people that you know in your life or from history who exemplify these virtues? Give concrete examples. 
  • Show the video interview of Justice O’Connor and have students identify the virtues that the justice exemplifies and why as they watch. The video is 5 minutes long and can also be assigned the day before.  
  • Option 1: Class discussion on Justice O’Connor and virtues. Invite students to discuss using the following prompt. 
    • Explain how Justice O’Connor exemplifies one of the virtues listed in Handout A. 
  • Option 2: Writing on Justice O’Connor and virtues. Invite students to write a paragraph on the following prompt. 
    • Using Handout A, choose which virtue Justice O’Connor should be most remembered for in her time in public service and explain why that virtue was chosen.  


Divide the class into groups to research the following times in Justice O’Connor’s life and give a presentation or talk on virtues that are exemplified during that time.  

  • Early Life (childhood to college) 
  • College Graduation and start of Public Service including time in the Arizona Legislature 
  • Supreme Court tenure 
  • Retirement