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United States Government The Courts News Politics

Justice O'Connor Retiring 1157

rlbond86 writes "The New York Times reports that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will be retiring. Justice O'Connor, the first woman to become a Supreme Court justice, is considered by many the crucial 'swing vote' on many issues. How will this affect Supreme Court decisions in the future?" From the article: "Her departure, which had been the subject of rumors for weeks but was still a surprise, will give President Bush his first opportunity to name a justice to the Supreme Court. It is still not clear whether Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who is battling thyroid cancer and had been widely expected to resign, will step down this summer, giving Mr. Bush another seat to fill."
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Justice O'Connor Retiring

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  • by bigtallmofo ( 695287 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:13PM (#12962758)
    With the spirit of common brotherhood that has been displayed in Washington lately (especially in the Senate), the confirmation of O'connor's replacement should go very smoothly.

    • Frankly I hope the two parties tear each other to pieces. Maybe then some third party could finally get in edgewise and actually get rid of this horribly corrupt administration and Congress, Dems and Repubs alike. And no, I don't necessarily mean Libertarian. Something that fits with my socially liberal, fiscally conservative agenda. Let's face it, neither party is anywhere close to that right now.

      Personally I'm a moderate, and I agreed with a lot of O'Connor's decisions, particularly recent were her decis
      • by snorklewacker ( 836663 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:49PM (#12963254)
        > And if he decides to be the angry child he normally is, I have no doubts the government will cease to function in Washington over this next nomination.

        One can only hope. You forget that the same corrupt party controls two branches of government, and is gunning for the third. And frankly, they're a lot better at pandering to ignorance and fear, so they'll get the vast majority of the public behind them.

        I can hope we get another David Souter. I think we're going to get one that makes Thomas look like Ginsburg. Maybe even two.

        The next 20 years look grim.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:56PM (#12963370)
        By being the "angry child he normally is," you of course mean excersizing his constitutional power to appoint judges who have similar views and beliefs as himself? In this situation, the only "comprimise" that the democrats will be satisfied with is appointing a liberal judge. That isn't a comprimise at all, that would simply be surrender.

        George Bush has never made it a secret exactly what his views on society are. He is a conservative, just as he was WHEN HE WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT.

        The majority of this country chose him knowing full well that he would appoint judges who believed as he did. Why shouldn't he therefore follow the wishes of the majority of the country and do JUST THAT?

        So when you say that "I can't help but feel all of America is about to get the hard end of the stick with Bush's next appointee," what you SHOULD be thinking is that if Bush appoints a judge of HIS choosing, the majority of the country will WIN. Only if the democracts are allowed to win this battle will the country get the "hard end of the stick."
        • by daVinci1980 ( 73174 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @03:14PM (#12963609) Homepage
          You misunderstand the point of the judicial branch. The point of the judicial branch is to make sure that the other branches don't abuse their powers, and that the other branches don't shred the Constitution.

          The judicial branch is supposed to be above partisan politics. Judges are appointed for life at the federal level. Regardless of a judge's MORAL stance on an issue, they are to rule according to the LAW, and the Constitution. That's why abortion remains legal in this country. Regardless of whether or not you feel abortion is a sin, or morally repugnant, or whatever, abortion seems to be allowed by the Constitution.

          Now, as a snide side comment, Bush wasn't elected by a majority of this country. (Although he was re-elected by a majority. Go figure).
          • You misunderstand the point of the judicial branch. The point of the judicial branch is to make sure that the other branches don't abuse their powers, and that the other branches don't shred the Constitution.

            That's nice and all in abstract, but who watches the judicial brance to make sure THEY don't shred the constitution? After all, the whole reason that we have a democracy, 3 branches of government, and checks and balances is because human beings are fallible. If we could find a perfect human beings

        • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @04:36PM (#12964591)
          Uh, where does it say that the president has unlimited power to put whoever he wants on the bench? From what I see he has the power to appoint judges with "the advise and consent" of the congress. That little clause is meant to be one of the many checks and balances engrained into the constitution. It means that a tyrany of the masses is that much more difficult. From an objective point of view Washington is at its best when it is doing almost nothing, when only those ideas that are almost universally supported are passed into law. The rest of the time the pundulum is swinging too far to one side or the other, usually with bad results for everyone.
        • by centron ( 61482 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @04:38PM (#12964620) Homepage

          This dramtic oversimplification brought to you by the American Black and White Idealism Committee, bringing you opinions void of thought for over two hundred years.

          I won't claim objectivity, since anyone that does so is lying or fooling themselves, but George Bush is the least compromising individual I have ever witnessed in a position of authority. Some call it "staying the course", and "determined leadership", but it is really just euphemistic for "don't confuse me with facts, I've already made up my mind".

          The idea that every branch of our federal government can now be dominated by the agendas and members of the far conservative right, especially after Rehnquist finally bites it, with nothing to temper it towards a moderate stance, should be deeply concerning to anyone that doesn't buy into the same beliefs as the staunch conservatives and the fire and brimstone Christians. Even for conservatives, this may well lead us to a government too far right for comfort.

          Add to this the continued Republican policies of deficit spending, something they have decried the now oddly fiscally responsible Democrats for years about, and you have a recipe for the alienation and fracture of American society and America as a respected world power, not to mention the economic disaster that the current financial policy puts in our future.

    • by ndansmith ( 582590 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:50PM (#12963280)
      The sarcasm of parent has got a real point. I think that Bush's Supreme Court appointment(s) will be one of the defining political battles of recent time. Democrats in the Senate have violenty resisted Circuit Appellate Court nominees, and Bolton for UN ambassador. How much more will they fight the Republicans and President Bush if he nominates anyone but a moderate judge. Yes there will be great strife on the floor of the Senate in the coming months.

      Of course, this all depends on who the President picks as a replacement. If he picks Alberto Gonzales (currently attourney general), all hell may break loose.

    • The Senate has never in its history been so owned by corporations. Hell, the RIAA has a few senators in their pockets. The Senate just passes a law allowing the exporting of more USA jobs. This senate is very pro-buisness, the gap between the poor and rich is huge. Just from the news, Motorola lays off 11,000, GM lays off 25,000, Motorola builds plant outside the USA, GM moves jobs to Mexico (for a wage 1/20th of the USA, so it is not like Mexicans are getting good jobs), the RIAA sues grandmothers for down
      • by Cheeko ( 165493 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @03:14PM (#12963605) Homepage Journal
        Well in all honesty, its not quite as bad as you make it sound. Yes in all likelyhood he will replace 2 justices. BUT, one will be Rhenquist, who is as conservative as they come. If Bush replaces him with a diehard conservative, it will just be status quo. O'Connor being a moderate conservative is slightly different, but she is still a conservative on most issues. His best bet at getting someone approved will mean someone in a similar mold. Only if one of the liberal members decided to step down would you see a massive swing in policy.

        Also one thing people forget to SOME extent, is that history tends to show that supreme court justices, no matter who pics them, generally have done their job as described, and thats to interpret the constitution and laws as set forth by Congress and the President. Things like Free Speech, etc, are fairly clearly laid out in the Bill of Rights, no amount of RIAA politicing will CHANGE the bill of rights. Its just a matter of getting the right cases to the Supreme Court so that they can smack down laws that are in violation of those rights. The reason many things like the DMCA survive is because nobody will challenge them to the degree neccessary to get them to the Supreme Court. This I think speaks more for the legal system as a whole, that allows people with deep pockets to intimidate people who are in the right, according to the constitution.
        • by admiralh ( 21771 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @04:46PM (#12964705) Homepage

          Only if one of the liberal members decided to step down would you see a massive swing in policy.

          I agree with you, except for one thing: There aren't any big-L Liberals on the court.

          The closest thing to a liberal is Justice Stevens, and he only seems so because the rest of the court is so right-wing. Blackmun, Brennan, and Marhshall were all more liberal than Stevens and were replaced by more conservative justices.

          What we have is 1 moderate liberal (Stevens) 3 centrist judges (Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer) and 1 moderate conservative (Kennedy) and 3 extreme conservatives (Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas). O'Connor was typically another moderate conservative. She or Kennedy would usually be the decider in close cases.

          Of course I expect George W. "Uniter, not a Divider" to nominate someone like Scalia or Thomas. After all, he was quoted as saying they were his favorite Justices.

          Also one thing people forget to SOME extent, is that history tends to show that supreme court justices, no matter who pics them, generally have done their job as described, and thats to interpret the constitution and laws as set forth by Congress and the President.

          In past Administrations, I would agree. But this Administration has made a partisan mockery of nearly every function of government. Scientific reports have been edited by industry insiders. Intelligence has been "fixed" to support policy. FEAR has been used to drive policies that have nothing to do with security.

          I'm betting he nominates John Ashcroft.

  • by corn52283 ( 832288 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:13PM (#12962762)
    We all saw the battle with Bush's other nominations, let's see how badly he can piss the democrats off this time... and if his pick is as bad as John Bolton or Condoleeza Rice, we'll be hearing about it for a good long time... As for Rehnquist, if he retires, that's not just a seat to fill, they need to fill the head seat as well
    • Ok, here goes some karma, since I know most of the folks here tend to be on the left side of the asile...

      I don't think Bush can mess up the SCOTUS any more than it is already. Please don't forget that it was the left leaning justices who gave your local officials the right to take your property if they deem it to be in the public interest. And I believe most local public officals can be easily purchased by a WalMart looking for a new home.
      Nice job SCOTUS.
      • Make up your mind.

        Do you want activist judges or do you want judges who follow the law?

        You don't like the Kelo case - you shouldn't. [] But the remedy is not at the federal court level; there's no case law or precedent to support it.

        Most states already prohibit these kind of takings - you know, the kind of taking of private land that made Bush millions of bucks when it was done in Texas. [] The rest of the states should follow suit, but it would be legislating from the bench if the Supremes would have done i
  • Under any other administration, I could see this one clearly going to the politics section of Slashdot. But, undoubtedly, the fundie whackjob that Bush will nominate for the open SCOTUS seat better places this story under YRO.
  • Question. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rackhamh ( 217889 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:17PM (#12962810)
    I'm going to show my lack of knowledge concerning the SCOTUS here, in the hopes of learning something new.

    How is it determined which of the justices is the "swing vote"? Presumably, the swing vote is a concern in decisions that are split 5-4. But if there are 5 justices voting in a particular direction, how is it known which of those justices was undecided? (And, in fact, shouldn't they ALL be undecided until they've considered the merits of the particular case?)

    Do the justices reveal their deliberation process? Or are particular judges just considered "swing votes" because they aren't consistent in the leaning of their decisions? (Which would also strike me as somewhat questionable behavior from a SC justice.)

    Please enlighten me!
    • Re:Question. (Score:5, Informative)

      by rcs1000 ( 462363 ) * <rcs1000 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:29PM (#12962963)
      Well: the Supreme Court typically (and this is by no means always) tends to split into two seperate camps:

      (1) The "progressives" or "liberals", who have tended to favour an "expansionist" interpretation of the constitution, and have typically been in favour of Roe vs Wade.

      (2) The "conservatives" who typically are more "creationist" and who believe that "if it ain't in the constitution, we shouldn't try and add it."

      Because many issues fall clearly into one of the two camps, and there are some justices that reliably support one side rather than the other (i.e. Stevens is as liberal as they come for example) the decision often depends on the "swing" justices.

      Of course, there are issues that transcend this simple left/right analysis, and even within this there are sub-groupings: states rights are one area (Clarence Thomas is normally staunchly conservative but voted that California's pot laws should not be overturned ), and religion another. The recent Grokster case is also interesting, if only because of the dissenting opinions filed. (Which indicate that the decision might have been entirely different if just 10% of the traffic was for "legitimate" purposes.)

      Anyway: this is all very interesting, and for anyone with an enquiring mind I highly recommend reading some of SCOTUS's rulings.


      • by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @03:15PM (#12963626)
        One thing you seem to have missed is that judicial != political when you are talking about conservatives versus liberals. Although it's true that most issues don't bring light to the difference, it is there. For instance, when it comes to abortion the political conservatives say you have no right to it, while the judicial conservatives agree that the Constitution doesn't guarantee any such right. The difference is that a judicial conservative would not say that the Constitution prohibits abortion, while a political conservative would make sure to pass laws that do just that.

        Justice Scalia is very judicially conservative, and sometimes that conflicts with his political views. When faced with that choice, he chooses to be judicially conservative. Even Rehnquist, who is definitely a political conservative, is not nearly as judicially conservative as you would expect if you equated the two traits as one.

        Of course, it is extremely rare to have a dichotomy on the liberal side of things, because political liberals want things to be a certain way and judicial liberals are really good at reading the Constitution to mean just what they want it to. You will rarely, if ever, find a politically liberal judicial conservative.

        My personal hope is that Bush appoints someone who is judicially conservative and politically moderate. But he wouldn't do that any more than Kerry would have appointed Cheney to the bench.
    • Re:Question. (Score:3, Insightful)

      The "Swing Vote" is the person who didn't have an obvious voting record. In almost all cases, 4 of the justices are likely to vote one way, and 4 the other. (One side being very conservative in it's reading of the law, the other being very liberal.) That is, most of the justices will read the laws in predicatible ways.

      Sandra was the one who was most likely to change groups she voted with on any issue; therefore she was the swing voter. And therefore this is a very important position for Bush to fill: I
    • Re:Question. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:32PM (#12963006) Journal
      Do the justices reveal their deliberation process?

      Yes. []

      The justices write majority and minority opinions based on whether they were on the "winning" or "losing" side of the argument. Typically one on each side will write the opinion and everyone else endorses it, although sometimes some justices will write their own opinion by themselves. []
  • by VolciMaster ( 821873 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:24PM (#12962916) Homepage
    in the supreme court, and the lack of any recent appointments to the highest court in America, it seems like a good thing that there will be some new blood in the justice seat. I don't personally support everything Mr Bush has done as president, but he is my president, and as such deserves my respect.

    I personally supported almost nothing the previous president did, but I still respected him for being President of the United States.

    Also note that the justices appointed don't always carry otu the 'wishes' of the appointer. President Ford, a fairly conservative leader, managed to get one of the more liberal judges appointed.

    What we really need is to get judges who stop trying to legislate from the bench, and return to applying law to the case, not writing law for a case.

  • VACANCY (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:25PM (#12962920)
    evangelical christian?
    old, white, and crazy?

    please mail your resume to:
    White House
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
    Washington, DC 20500
    re: SCOTUS
    • Re:VACANCY (Score:3, Interesting)

      by learn fast ( 824724 )
      This administration really specializes in finding extreme-right appointees that are members of minority groups.

      Look, this memo [] was written by hispanic Albert Gonzales! The choice bits: "the war against terrorism is a new kind of war" and "this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

      That certainly would look good under Supreme Court letterhead, wouldn't it!
  • by katharsis83 ( 581371 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:25PM (#12962925)
    O'Conner's retirement is actually much more important than if Rehnquist had retired; on a pretty wide array of social policies, i.e. abortion and affirmative action, O'Conner has been the swing vote in the 5-4 decisions. Rehnquist, on the other hand, tends to vote conserative, period. Slashdotters might be pleased to know she was a key vote in the challenge to the President to arbitrarily detain individuals w/out review:

    "It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation's commitment to due process is most severely tested," she wrote last year for the court in the Iraq-war era case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. "And it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad. . . . We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens." ~ taken from the Washington Post article today.

    There are pretty much two options for Bush to play this:

    1) He tries to appeal to the Hispanic vote, key for his party in upcoming elections, by nominating Alberto Gonzalez. Problem is, the Christian Right, would be pretty pissed about this, since they think he'll vote to keep Roe v. Wade and affirmative action. Just a reminder though, this is the same guy who authored the infamous legal documents saying we don't need to treat prisoners from Afghanistan under the Geneva Conventions, and wanted to redefine torture more loosely.

    2) He tries to please his core-base, the social conservatives, by nominating someone likely to overturn Roe v. Wade, and affirmative action. This'll set off a firestorm on the right AND left.

    Option 1 would be the far more moderate choice, and less likely to create a protracted battle in the Senate, which SEEMS to be what he was hinting at he wants when he said in his speech that he wanted a "dignified" nomination process - of course this could just be posturing.

    Another interesting tidbit will be to see how the "Gang of 14" in the Senate, who avoided the filibuster showdown, will react if Bush goes with Option 2. No offense to the "Gang of 14," but I think that pressure from far right and left interest groups are gonna tear the agreement under asap. Especially since Frist hates the agreement, since it was pretty much a slap in the face to him when key Republicans went around him to get it done. I doubt he'll lift a finger to try and negotiate if Bush nominates a social conservative like Scalia or Thomas.

    Just a few thoughts. The comings weeks will be fun to watch.
    • On the other hand, Scalia had this to say about the subject:

      "Many think it not only inevitable but entirely proper that liberty give way to security in times of national crisis---that, at the extremes of military exigency, inter arma silent leges. Whatever the general merits of the view that war silences law or modulates its voice, that view has no place in the interpretation and application of a Constitution designed precisely to confront war and, in a manner that accords with democratic principles, to
  • Doesn't surprise me (Score:5, Informative)

    by jangobongo ( 812593 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @02:41PM (#12963137)
    When I heard that she was going to be teaching a class [] at the University of Arizona (albeit, during the Supreme Court's winter recess in 2005-2006), I had a feeling that she might retire soon.

    She's a republican, she's 75, her husband has Alzheimer's and she wants to spend time eith him. She probably thinks there's no better time to retire and let Bush put another Republican in her place.
  • by rlp ( 11898 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @03:56PM (#12964113)
    Hopefully, they'll pick someone who will walk down to the National Archives and take the time to read James Madison's little document. Right now we've got justices that are taking direction from international law. I don't recall Madison mentioning international law. But I suppose it explains the Kelo decision - they must have looked at law in Zimbabwe.
  • by bayers ( 155001 ) on Friday July 01, 2005 @05:33PM (#12965175) Homepage
    Eisenhower promoted Warren to the Supreme Court and he said it was the worst mistake of his life, Warren being one of the most activist judges ever.

    Bush Sr promoted Kennedy who he thought was a lot more conservative than he turned out to be. O'Connor was supposed to more conservative than she turned out to be.

    When you are promoted to SCOTUS, you've reached the pentultimate spot. You can't be fired and it's almost impossible to impeach you. Now, you can do what you want, everyone else, presidents, congress, be damned.

    I'm not worried in the slightest.

Where there's a will, there's an Inheritance Tax.