Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will retire.
Sandra Day O'Connor has been an influential swing vote on the high court. Appointed by President Reagan, she has often taken a liberal position in many court decisions. She has frequently been seen as the key vote in preventing the Supreme Court from overturning Roe v. Wade.
Justice O'Connor served from 1975-79 as Maricopa County Superior Court Judge in Phoenix.. Governor Bruce Babbitt appointed her to the Arizona Court of Appeals in 1979. President Reagan nominated Judge O'Connor for Associate Justice on July 7, 1981. The United States Senate confirmed her on September 21, 1981. She took oath on September 25, 1981, as the first woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court.
The Chicago Tribune lists pros and cons of possible replacements. Analysts narrow the field to three front runners:
Judge J. Michael Luttig, 4th U.S. Court of Appeals (Richmond) — is a crisp writer and principled conservative
Judge Samuel Alito 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals (Philadelphia) — Sometimes called "Scalito" because of his similarities in opinion to Antonin Scalia, another favorite with conservatives and for the same reason a target for liberals
Judge John Roberts, U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. — Considered one of the best lawyers to argue before the Supreme Court in recent years, he only recently landed on the bench — so there's little known about his opinions
Others on the short list are considered longshots:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — a long time friend and political partner to President Bush, but conservative groups would oppose him as too moderate. Liberals would focus on his role in suggesting the Geneva Conventions could be circumvented in the War on Terror
Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, 4th U.S. Court of Appeals (Richmond)-- a former editor at the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and member of the Reagan Justice Department is 61 years old. His age could be a big strike against him.
Judge Michael McConnell, 10th U.S. Court of Appeals (Denver) — considered very unpredictible, conservative on some issues, liberal on others. He also argued against the reasoning of Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that put President Bush in the White House in 2000
Judge William Pryor, 11th U.S. Court of Appeals (Atlanta) — has been very critical of Roe v. Wade, making him politically polarizing. A serious long-shot.
Expect the White House to act in less than 24 hours to make their nominations. Speed is essential to minimize political infighting over who should get the nomination.