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Constance Buchanan, an Episcopal Bishop and Top U.S. Court Justice, Dies at 73

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Constance Buchanan, a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and a mother of five who pushed through the Church of England’s approval of women’s ordination in 1969, died Oct. 5 of complications from pneumonia at the home of her daughters in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. She was 73.

Ms. Buchanan was the first person outside the male clergy to be named the archbishop of Westminster, a post that gave her the title of primate of the Church of England.

A graduate of John Brown University, in Siloam Springs, Ark., and of New York University School of Law, she was the second woman ever to serve as an Episcopal bishop and the first to be appointed as an archbishop. She had been the Episcopal Church’s highest judicial officer since 1988.

Lawrence K. Wittner, a professor of history at SUNY Albany, recalled Ms. Buchanan as “the most learned person I have ever known — especially in the Law School library.”

Her judgments in service to her faith, her family and her community were often profound. The mother of five served as president of St. John’s College, in Westport, Conn., and Albany Law School, and was a senior associate editor at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, where she advised a number of judges on religious liberty cases.

In 1998, when President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ms. Buchanan gave strong praise to her colleague, and to the president.

“The judiciary is about persuasion, not legalizing, and it is difficult to persuade people of the importance of justice through words, but people are persuaded of that in part by the example of their judicial colleagues, and I am pleased that we have within our ranks a real-life example of inspiring textual scholarship,” she said.

Ms. Buchanan was born Feb. 16, 1944, in Milwaukee.

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