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The leadership that Sandra Day O’Connor gave America

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Citing a diagnosis of dementia probably related to Alzheimer’s disease, retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor on Tuesday announced her departure from public life at age 88.

It was a poignant exit for a woman who once ranked as the most powerful federal official of her gender in America. Given Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016, O’Connor may still qualify as the most powerful woman in the history of U.S. government.

The sources of this power were various, beyond her prestige as the first female justice, and beyond the simple fact that she wielded one of nine votes on the highest court in the land.

She had a suffer-no-fools attitude that could devastate any lawyer who might attempt to mince words with her at oral argument.

As The Post’s Supreme Court reporter, I got a taste of O’Connor’s steel in 2003, when I tried to steer an interview to a subject that seemed newsier, to me, than the topic she had agreed to discuss, the book she had recently published.

“I thought we were here to talk about this,” O’Connor said, unforgettably glaring at me and drumming her index finger three times, hard, on the cover of her book. Tap. Tap. Tap.

O’Connor’s chief strategic asset, though, was her steadfast refusal to succumb to polarization on a court often divided between right and left. “If........

© Washington Post