When President Reagan tapped O'Connor, then an Arizona Appeals
Court justice, to the nation's highest court in 1981, he was fulfilling
a promise he had made during his presidential campaign to appoint
a woman to the court.
O'Connor recognized the pressure of the role she had been handed.
concern was whether I could do the job of a justice well enough
to convince the nation that my appointment was the right move,"
the Associated Press quoted her as saying at a law school in 2000.
"If I stumbled badly in doing the job, I think it would
have made life more difficult for women, and that was a great
concern of mine and still is."
Her role evolved over the years, from one of the court's more
conservative voices to one of moderation.
She often became the deciding justice in some of the court's
most polarized decisions.
In 2000, she joined the majority of the more conservative justices
who decided to end the recount that handed the election to George
W. Bush, but backed the majority of liberal justices in allowing
abortions when a woman's health is endangered.
O'Connor saw herself and her eight fellow justices as something
akin to nine firefighters.
"When (someone) lights a fire, we invariably are asked to
attend to the blaze. We may arrive at the scene a few years later,"
Compiled for NewsHour Extra from wire reports and other media