Former conservative Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced doctors have diagnosed her with “the beginning stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s disease.” (NPR)

O’Connor, 88, is the first female justice to serve on the high court, and she has remained active after retiring in 2006. She left the court to care for her husband, John, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Now, O’Connor says, the disease is forcing her to withdraw from public life.

Despite her condition, O’Connor said, “nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life.”

In a letter released by the Supreme Court’s public information office, O’Connor said she received the diagnosis “some time ago.”

“As this condition has progressed, I am no longer able to participate in public life,” O’Connor said. “Since many people have asked about my current status and activities, I want to be open about these changes, and while I am still able, share some personal thoughts.”

President Ronald Reagan appointed O’Connor to the Supreme Court in 1981 – as the first female justice. 

In her open letter, O’Connor stressed the importance of encouraging civil learning and engagement for future generations.

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