This morning, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement through a letter delivered to President Bush. O’Connor was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court in 1981, and was a critical swing vote on issues of civil rights and abortion. Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal says “Make no mistake about it: Sandra Day O’Connor was the fifth vote that was saving Roe v. Wade. Abortion rights and women’s rights are on the line.”
Speculation about O’Connor’s retirement was largely overshadowed by the possibility of Chief Justice William Rehnquist stepping down, and Rehnquist, who has been battling thyroid cancer, may still resign before the next term. His retirement would require Bush to appoint both a new justice and a new Chief Justice. According to the Associated Press, O’Connor will step down before the start of the court’s next term in October, or once the Senate confirms her successor. There has not been a vacancy on the Supreme Court since 1994 and O’Connor’s retirement will give President Bush his first opportunity to appoint a member of the Supreme Court.