The surprise was palpable in the nation’s capital when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a crucial swing vote in many of the Supreme Court’s most controversial decisions of the past 24 years, announced on July 1 that she would retire to care for her husband.
But political aides on the right and left were already postponing summer vacations, according to published reports. The Washington workhorses had anticipated that the ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist would be announcing his retirement.
The surprise meant that President Bush will not be nominating a conservative to replace a conservative, but will have the opportunity to shift the ideological balance of a closely divided, nine-member bench. A strongly conservative justice replacing the famously moderate O’Connor could shift the court’s rulings to the right for decades to come.