Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Announces Medical Diagnosis That Is ‘Probably Alzheimer’s Disease’

O'Connor is 88-years-old and was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor speaks at the TIME Summit On Higher Education on October 18, 2012.
Jemal Countess / Getty Images

O'Connor is 88-years-old and was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 88, announced Tuesday she has been diagnosed with the “beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease,” CNN reported.

The announcement came in the form of a letter released by the court’s Public Information Officer. She wrote that her diagnosis was made “some time ago” and had progressed to the point where she is “no longer able to participate in public life,” according to MSN.

“I will continue living in Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by dear friends and family,” she wrote. “While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying, nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings of my life.”

“God Bless you all,” she signed the letter.

The announcement comes after many news sources yesterday reported the retired justice was taking a step back from public life.

In a phone interview with The Associated Press, her son Jay O’Connor said his mother “began to have challenges with her short-term memory,” making some public events difficult, CNBC reported. She has also primarily been using a wheelchair due to hip issues.

O’Connor’s last public appearance was two years ago, and she is no longer doing interviews. This summer she turned over an office she had kept at the Supreme Court to Anthony Kennedy, the court’s most recently retired justice.

“When she hit about 86-years-old she decided that it was time to slow things down, that she’d accomplished most of what she set out to do in her post-retirement years, that she was getting older physically and her memory was starting to be more challenging, so the time came to dial back her public life,” her son said, according to CNBC.

O’Connor was nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan as the United States Supreme Court’s first female justice in 1981. She retired in 2006, in part to provide care for her husband, John O’Connor III, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, CNN reported.

During her time on the court, she cast key votes in cases about abortion, affirmative action, and campaign finance. O’Connor also played a key role in Bush v. Gore, ultimately resulting in George W. Bush winning the 2000 presidential election.

Post-retirement, O’Connor continued to make her mark on the country. She founded the group iCivics in 2009, a non-profit organization that provides lesson plans and free, educational online games to promote civic education. In her letter released today, O’Connor announced she would be stepping away from her leadership role with the program.

“It is time for new leaders to make civic learning and civic engagement a realty for all,” she wrote. “I hope that I have inspired young people about civic engagement and helped pave the pathway for women who may have faced obstacles pursuing their careers.