"This is her day," said Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the man largely responsible for steering Sandra O'Connor's 99-0 confirmation vote through the Senate yesterday.

And it was her night, too, amid velvet-covered walls, brass serving plates and the twinkling of candlelight at the Shezan restaurant, as Thurmond and his wife, Nancy, hosted about a dozen others celebrating O'Connor's confirmation as associate justice of the Supreme Court, the first woman to hold that office.

"Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would be turning over in their graves right now, but let's hope Abigail Adams would be pleased," said O'Connor, dressed in a pink and white dress with a white shawl.

"Today we're really making history," said Thurmond, as he spoke to the group seated at three tables and to the new justice seated to his right.

"I didn't know you before I recommended you," he continued. "In fact, I recommended three other women before you.

"But the longer we know you the more we admire you. We love you for your beauty, respect you for your intelligence, adore you for your charm, and will come to love you . . . because we can't help it."

Following a Pakistani dinner of turtle soup, salad, chicken, lamb and shrimp, and right before an ice-cream-like dessert garnished with a thin layer of real silver (yes, it's edible), Attorney General William French Smith added to the accolades and adhered to the one-minute time limit allowed by the host.

"Amen, is all I have to say," he said in his usual low-key style, and sat down.

But O'Connor wasn't getting all the attention. The man who picked her got his share, too. Said Chief of Protocol Leonore Annenberg: "The president is the greatest, as is evident by this appointment."

The other guests included White House Chief of Staff James Baker and his wife, Susan; Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and his wife, Susan; assistant to the president for legislative affairs Max L. Friedersdorf and his wife, Priscilla; deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs Powell Moore and his wife, Katherine; and O'Connor's sister Ann Alexander and her husband, Scott. O'Connor's husband John was unable to come to Washington because of the death of his mother this week.

After everyone else had bestowed their good wishes on O'Connor, Nancy Thurmond took her minute.

"Usually when Strom is speaking there is nothing to say," she said in her soft South Carolina accent, "but I think Justice O'Connor is the best thing to come down the pike since Girl Scout cookies."