1981: Reagan appoints the first female Supreme Court justice
Republican Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court when she was appointed by President Reagan in 1981. She served on the court until 2006, and President Barack Obama later gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
1982: Reagan speaks at a British Parliamentary session
President Reagan appeared to voice his support for England amid their conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands. In doing so, he became the first American president to speak during a joint session of Parliament in the country.
1983: The Reagan administration proposes ‘Star Wars’
Under Reagan, the “Star Wars'' program (aka The Strategic Defense Initiative) was conceived in an attempt to create an antiballistic missile shield for the U.S. in case of a nuclear attack. By 1987, the American Physical Society determined that such technologies were years from practical application.
1985: George H.W. Bush becomes acting president for eight hours
The Republican Vice President briefly took over for President Reagan while Reagan had colon cancer surgery. Bush later became the 41st U.S. president in 1989.
1986: The Iran-Contra affair becomes public
This major scandal broke during the Reagan administration’s second term, and involved the coverup of senior presidential administrators secretly selling weapons to the Islamic Republic of Iran, resulting in financial aid to the American-funded Contras in Nicaragua (Congress had ruled against providing the Contras more aid). Reagan refused to take full responsibility for the scandal until 1987.
1987: Reagan and Gorbachev sign a nuclear treaty
In signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan took a major step towards ending Cold War conflicts between the two nations. The treaty forbade the countries from fielding a number of missiles, although President Donald Trump later withdrew the U.S. from the treaty in 2018 based on supposed Russian non-compliance.
1988: George H.W. Bush is elected as the 41st president
In winning the presidency, Bush became the first sitting American vice president to be elected president since Martin Van Buren in the 1836 presidential election. The Republican nominee’s defeat of Democrat Michael Dukakis was also the most recent time in which one of the country’s political parties won three presidential elections in a row.
1989: Bush introduces his war on drugs
Though this wasn’t the first time the term was used, Bush officially aimed to take the issue of drug abuse to task by creating the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Although money for law enforcement was increased under the office, spending on addiction treatment made up less than a third of its budget.
1990: Bush and Gorbachev agree to destroy chemical weapons
The U.S. and Soviet leaders signed another treaty in 1990, this time to stop chemical weapon production in their respective countries and eventually destroy 80% of their chemical weapons catalog. This proved to be relatively short-lived, though, since President George W. Bush ordered troops to invade Iraq in search of similar weapons in 2003.