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Supreme Court justice thanks Reagan at award ceremony

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor started the day in Washington, speaking at Ronald Reagan's funeral.

She ended the day in her home state, thanking the former president for opening courthouse doors to her and all women who practice law today.

O'Connor said Reagan's historic decision to appoint a ``cowgirl from eastern Arizona'' to the Supreme Court in 1981 paved the way for all women in the legal profession.

At a ceremony Friday night, the State Bar of Arizona presented O'Connor with its Distinguished Career Award for embodying the highest ideals in the legal profession and making remarkable improvements to the justice system.

``A little appreciation is always welcome,'' said O'Connor to the roughly 350 guests, among them several of her family members.

The crowd gave O'Connor a standing ovation before she was able to give her speech, which included praise of the State Bar, memories from her childhood spent at the Lazy B cattle ranch in Arizona and the difficulties she faced as a woman seeking a career in the law profession in the 1950s and 1960s.

``I could not find in Arizona a law firm that would hire me,'' said O'Connor, who began her own practice in 1957 in the Phoenix suburb of Maryvale because of the lack of opportunities for women lawyers.

After that, O'Connor sought higher offices in the state.

She was Arizona's assistant attorney general from 1965-69, served two terms in the state Senate, and presided over the Maricopa County Superior Court and the state court of appeals.

``I had trouble getting a job, and I never held on to them for very long,'' O'Connor said to the laughing crowd.

O'Connor made history in 1981 when she became the first female justice to serve on the Supreme Court.

``It was as much a surprise to me as it was to the whole world,'' O'Connor said.
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