nazarethman/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Funeral services for Sandra Day O’Connor, who broke barriers as the first woman to ever serve as a Supreme Court justice, were held Tuesday at the National Cathedral in Washington.

President Joe Biden and Chief Justice John Roberts delivered eulogies at the invitation-only service, as did O’Connor’s son, Jay.

Biden began his remarks by remembering his time as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee when it held the confirmation hearing for O’Connor, calling it a “momentous” day for the court and the country.

“Gracious, wise, civil and principled, Sandra Day O’Connor, the daughter of the American West, was a pioneer in her own right, breaking down the barriers in the political world and the nation’s conscience,” Biden said. “To her, the Supreme Court was the bedrock, the bedrock of America.”

Biden commended O’Connor for her lifelong dedication to “equal justice under the law” and her recognition of how the law impacts everyday Americans.

“One need not agree with all her decisions in order to recognize that her principles were deeply held and of the highest order,” he said, “and that her desire for civility was genuine, and her trust in the capacity of human institutions to make life better is what this world was abiding.”

“And how she embodied such attributes under pressure and scrutiny empowered generations of women in every part of American life, including the court itself, helping to open doors, secure freedom and prove that a woman can do everything a man can do and do it a heck of a lot better,” he continued.

O’Connor, who died on Dec. 1 at the age of 93, made history when she was appointed to the nation’s highest court in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan. In her 25 years on the bench, she was known for her congeniality and independence.

She authored landmark opinions upholding abortion access, affirmative action and on protections to the First Amendment. She was also one of the five justices who decided to end Florida’s recount of the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Biden was seated in the front row at the National Cathedral alongside administration officials, including acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. O’Connor’s family was also seated in the first row, and behind them were the nine current Supreme Court justices.

“It has been said that the Supreme Court is a family. A family composed entirely of in-laws,” Chief Justice Roberts said as he kicked off his remarks, prompting laughter.

In another light moment, Roberts recalled O’Connor’s comment to a reporter after he was chosen to succeed her on the court.

“She had nice things to say, but ended by noting that the only problem was, I didn’t wear a skirt,” he said. “My initial reaction was, ‘Of course, everything is negotiable.’ Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.”

Roberts also addressed her groundbreaking journey from lawyer to politician to the first-ever female Supreme Court justice, saying she had to carve out her own style and “ignore slights and work to bring people together.”

“In nearly a quarter-century on the court she was a strong, influential, iconic jurist,” he said. “Her leadership shaped the legal profession, making it obvious that judges are both women and men.”

O’Connor’s son, Jay, shared personal anecdotes of their family life, saying she was “still a mom in every sense of the word” while achieving extraordinary milestones in her professional career.

“We still wonder how she did it all,” he said.

Ahead of the funeral, O’Connor on Monday lay in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court, where members of the public — including Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff — were able to pay their respects.


Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.