As Sherlock Holmes would often say, the game’s afoot — Sandra Day O’Connor has resigned from the Supreme Court:
Supreme Court Justrice Sandra Day O’Connor submitted her retirement notice to President Bush on Friday, setting the stage for a contentious battle over her replacement. …
One of the court’s two swing votes, O’Connor often sides with more conservative justices as she did in the Bush v. Gore ruling in 2000.
O’Connor’s retirement puts more pressure on the Senate than a Rehnquist retirement would have done. Rehnquist has consistenly provided a conservative voice on the court, and replacing him with another conservative would probably not have concerned moderate Democrats, who want to keep their powder dry for selected battles. O’Connor, however, has voted more from the center, and replacing her with a staunch conservative might get some of those moderate Democrats to the firing lines in the political battle to come.
Many names have been bandied about over the past several weeks. I don’t have a specific prediction on the nomination, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bush nominate someone like Alberto Gonzales for a couple of reasons. First, his nomination would likely get a better reception as a replacement for O’Connor among his base than if he replaced Rehnquist. Bush has intense loyalty towards his friends and he wants to leave a legacy on SCOTUS in some form. Appointing the first Hispanic to SCOTUS has its appeal for the President with the most ethnically diverse inner circle in history.
Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if Bush nominated a staunch conservative and judicial constructionist like Michael McConnell, either. It’s Bush’s nature to challenge his opponents, and he isn’t likely to allow the Democrats to dictate the terms of his executive appointments. This might be the opportunity he seeks to force the Democrats to extend their obstructionism to the highest levels of government, to truly smoke them out for the nation to see. If a substantial portion of the population didn’t care about appellate confirmations, they certainly will take notice of a SCOTUS confirmation.
All I know is that O’Connor’s resignation finally unleashes the political forces that both sides have stoked since the election. We’ll see how the Senate MOU and the Gang of 14 have affected the process in short order now. Pass the popcorn, folks … it should be a hell of a show.