Sandra Day O'Connor suffering from dementia, withdraws from public life

Sandra Day O'Connor suffering from dementia, withdraws from public life
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Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced on Tuesday that she is withdrawing from public life following a diagnosis of dementia.

In a public letter released by the court, O’Connor said doctors some time ago diagnosed her with the early stages of dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s disease.

She added that she’s no longer able to participate in public life as the condition has progressed.

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“Since many people have asked about my current status and activities, I want to be open about these changes, and while I am still able, share some personal thoughts,” said O’Connor.

The first woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court, O’Connor, a Reagan appointee, served for 25 years on the court before retiring in January 2006.

In retiring, O’Connor cited the need to care for her husband, who died from complications with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, according to media reports at the time of his death.

O’Connor said she made a commitment to use her remaining years to advance civic learning and engagement.

She founded iCivics in 2009. The online digital platform offers teachers a civics education curriculum and games.

O’Connor, 88, said she’s seen first-hand how vital it is for all citizens to understand the Constitution and the country's unique system of government, as well as for people to actively participate in their communities. 

“It is through this shared understanding of who we are that we can follow the approaches that have served us best over time — working collaboratively together in communities and in government to solve problems, putting country and the common good above party and self-interest, and holding our key governmental institutions accountable,” she said in her letter. 

Due to her condition, O’Connor said she will no longer be able to lead iCivics, but she hopes private citizens, counties, states and the federal government will work together to create and fund a nationwide civics education initiative. 

She said she will continue living in Phoenix. 

“While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life,” she said.

In a statement, Chief Justice John Roberts called O’Connor a towering figure in the history of the United States and the world.

“She broke down barriers for women in the legal profession to the betterment of that profession and the country as a whole,” he said.

“She serves as a role model not only for girls and women, but for all those committed to equal justice under law.”

Although O’Connor has announced that she is withdrawing from public life, Roberts said no illness or condition can take away the inspiration she provides for those who will follow the many paths she has blazed.

Updated at 1:25 p.m.