‘American icon’: Biden pays tribute to Sandra Day O'Connor

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President Joe Biden on Saturday paid tribute to the late former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as "an American icon."

“She spent her career committed to the stable center, pragmatic and in search of common ground. I did not agree with all of her opinions, but I admired her decency and unwavering devotion to the facts, to our country, to active citizenship and the common good,” Biden said.

O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, died Friday morning in Phoenix, Arizona. She was 93.

“As a U.S. Senator on the Judiciary Committee, I remember the hope surrounding her historic nomination to the Supreme Court. The Senate voted 99-0 in her favor, proof that our nation can come together to move history forward,” Biden said.

O'Connor was appointed to the bench in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. At her Senate confirmation hearing, then-Sen. Joe Biden quickly voiced his support for her. A senior member of the Judiciary panel at the time, Biden encouraged the first woman Supreme Court nominee to remember her sex, particularly when it came to speeches and other activities outside of the courtroom as a newly high-profile figure.

"It is your right, if it were your desire, to go out and campaign very strongly for the [Equal Rights Amendment],” Biden told her. “It is your right to go out and make speeches across the country about inequality for women — if you believe it. Don't wall yourself off. Your male brethren have not done it. Don't you do it."

Initially, O’Connor pushed back, saying it would be a potential violation of judicial ethics for her to do so. Biden disagreed, calling it an “obligation” to American women to speak out on issues important to them, as long as her speech conformed to judicial ethics.

"You are a singular asset. And you are looked at by many of us not merely because you are a bright, competent lawyer but also because you are a woman. That is something that should be advertised by you,” he said. “Don't let us intimidate you into not doing it.”

When O'Connor retired from the court in 2005, Biden acknowledged the role she played in “steering us through some very rough waters” during her time on the bench.

"Though I have not always agreed with her, I have always held JusticeO'Connor in the highest regard,” he said.

In his Saturday statement, Biden also praised O'Connor's dedication to public service and the “bedrock American principle of an independent judiciary," and cited her institute’s work to promote civics education and civil discourse.

“She knew that for democracy to work, we have to listen to each other, and remember how much more we all have in common as Americans than what keeps us apart,” he said.

Vice President Kamala Harris also released a statement Saturday calling O'Connor a "trailblazer."

"As an associate justice of the Supreme Court, as a state senator, and as a proud daughter of Arizona, Justice O'Connor dedicated her life to public service. A champion of civics education, Justice O’Connor helped countless young Americans better understand the nature and importance of our democracy," Harris added.

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.