Sandra Day O'Connor reveals dementia diagnosis, says she's leaving 'public life'

Sandra Day O'Connor.
(Image credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GettyImages)

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is stepping away from public life due to progressing dementia.

In a Tuesday statement, the 88-year-old O'Connor said she was diagnosed "some time ago" with "the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer's disease." This "condition has progressed," and now O'Connor says she is "no longer able to participate in public life." Still, she had some thoughts to share "while I am still able," she said.

O'Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, appointed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981. "As a young cowgirl from the Arizona desert," she wrote, "I never could have imagined that one day I would become the first woman justice." She retired from the court in 2005 at age 75, citing her husband's Alzheimer's diagnosis. Still, she remained devoted to "advanc[ing] civic learning and engagement," even founding a free online learning platform called iCivics — an organization that she said now reaches half the middle school and high school students in the country.

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She recently left the office she kept at the Supreme Court and hasn't made a public appearance in the past two years, The Associated Press reported Monday. O'Connor said she would remain at home in Phoenix, Arizona. "While the final chapter of my life with dementia may be trying," she wrote, "nothing has diminished my gratitude." Read her full statement below. Kathryn Krawczyk

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