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Sandra Day O’Connor, first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, remembered as “independent thinker” who often disappointed conservatives

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor hold up a copy of the U.S. constitution that she carries with her Saturday, Sept. 17, 2005 at an open-air Immigration and Naturalization citizenship hearing in Gilbert, Ariz.

Northeastern University law expert Daniel Urman remembered the late Sandra Day O’Connor—the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court—as a trailblazing historical figure and powerful swing vote whose independent streak and pragmatism would make her unlikely to be nominated to the high court today.

“In a way, O’Connor’s legacy is that she became for conservatives an example or a warning sign of what happens if you don’t nominate a movement conservative,” said Urman, director of the law and public policy minor at Northeastern, who teaches courses on the Supreme Court. “Her virtues as a pragmatist, independent thinker and minimalist, were definitely seen by others as vices—she probably wouldn’t be nominated today, because she would be seen as too much of a wild card,” he said.

O’Connor died at age 93 on Friday in Phoenix. The Supreme Court said the cause was complications of dementia. President Ronald Reagan nominated O’Connor to the Supreme Court in 1981, fulfilling a campaign promise to appoint the first female justice. 

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