WASHINGTON -- Sandra Day O'Connor, taking a solemn oath 'to do equal right to the poor and to the rich,' today was sworn in as the first woman justice in the 191-year history of the Supreme Court.
As President Reagan and a crowd of 400 people looked on amid the velvet drapes and marble columns of the huge courtroom, Chief Justice Warren Burger swore in the 52-year-old Arizona mother of three in a 15-minute ceremony.
Before that, Mrs. O'Connor had taken a Judicial Oath from Burger in the privacy of the justices' oak-paneled conference room. She pledged, in part, 'I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.'
Then followed the special session of the high court, which began with the traditional rap of the gavel by Court Marshal Alfred Wong and the entrance of the eight black-robed justices.
Mrs. O'Connor sat in the 'well' of the courtroom at the start of the ceremony, in a chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall more than 150 years ago. Reagan sat on the other side, next to Potter Stewart - the man Mrs. O'Connor replaced.
Court clerk Alexander Stevas escorted her to Burger's side, where he administered a Constitutional Oath.
Then, he said, 'Justice O'Connor, welcome to the court.'
Earlier, hand-in-hand with Burger, Mrs. O'Connor strolled down the front steps of the Supreme Court and said she feels 'just great' about being sworn in today as the first woman justice.
'You haven't seen a better-looking justice yet, have you?' Burger asked as he and Mrs. O'Connor posed for photographers.
Present were her husband John, their three sons, and her mother and father. Mrs. O'Connor's father, Harry Day, left his wheelchair and walked with the aid of a cane.
Wearing the black, knee-length robe from her days as an Arizona appeals court judge, Mrs. O'Connor smiled at well-wishers on her historic day. Under her judicial robes she wore a pink, long-sleeved dress and a gold choker.
Asked about the robe, Mrs. O'Connor replied:
'I'll buy a new one eventually, when this one gets frayed. They do, you know.'
The 52-year-old Arizona jurist carved her place in American history in the dramatic setting of the solemn, velvet-draped, marble-columned courtroom where sit the nine justices who make up the Supreme Court of the United States.
Viewing the historic moment were more than 300 dignitaries -- led by Ronald Reagan, the man who broke the male-only tradition with his nomination of Mrs. O'Connor to the highest tribunal.
She became the 102nd member of the 191-year-old court, replacing Potter Stewart, 67, who resigned from the bench in July and gave Reagan the opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise to appoint a woman.
In addition to Reagan and his wife Nancy, others invited included Vice President George Bush; Stewart and the other sitting justices; Sens. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz.; Bob Dole, R-Kan.; Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio; Joseph Biden, D-Del.; and Jeremiah Denton, R-Ala.
Mrs. O'Connor is the first of several appointments Reagan may have a chance to make on a court where five of the eight other justices are over 70.
The lifetime duration of appointments to the high court means few presidents have the opportunity to substantially alter its makeup.
Only six presidents -- George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower - appointed five or more justices.
But additional resignations from the court during the next few years would give Reagan the opportunity to give the bench a more conservative philosophy.
The five justices over age 70 are Burger, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun and Lewis Powell. Brennan and Marshall are the only two generally identified as liberals.
With the addition of Mrs. O'Connor, the court becomes a panel of justices named by six presidents: Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Reagan.