WASHINGTON — Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said Tuesday that she has been diagnosed with the dementia that is likely Alzheimer’s disease.
O’Connor, 88, wrote in a letter that she plans to step away from public life and her involvement in an online learning program that she founded to teach civics to middle and high school students.
“Some time ago, doctors diagnosed me with the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease,” O’Connor wrote in the letter addressed to “Friends and fellow Americans” from her home in Phoenix, Arizona. “As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life.”
In 1981, O’Connor became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court following a nomination by President Ronald Reagan. She retired in January 2006 after nearly a quarter-century on the court. At the time, O’Connor told reporters she retired to care for her ailing husband, who was battling Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 2009.
O’Connor urged others to continue the work of educating younger generations about civics and inspiring civic engagement. She wrote of her gratitude and amazement at her unexpected life, from cowgirl to pioneer.
“How fortunate I feel to be an American and to have been presented with the remarkable opportunities available to the citizens of our country,” she wrote. “As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert, I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.”