O’Conner vacancy at hand

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2005

After 24 years of service in the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the highest court, gave her resignation to the president Friday morning.

In a brief address given in the White House Rose Garden, President George W. Bush said, &uot;Today, however, is a day to honor the contributions of a fine citizen and a great patriot.

&uot;When President Ronald Reagan appointed Justice O’Connor 24 years ago, Americans had high expectations of her – and she has surpassed those expectations in the performance of her duties.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

Suffolk Republican Party Chairman Steve Trent believes Bush will find a candidate who mirrors the qualifications that led to O’Conner’s appointment.

&uot;She was a Supreme Court Justice obviously selected by President Reagan and I assume President Bush will nominate someone equally worthy of the position,&uot; said Trent on Friday afternoon.

Reflecting on her stint as a justice, he added, &uot;I think she made some good decisions and I think she made some bad decisions.&uot;

O’Connor’s career included numerous instances in which she was a &uot;swing vote&uot; or deciding vote on 5-4 rulings.

Despite her appointment from a Republican president, in some of the close rulings, O’Connor came down on the more progressive side of an issue.

In what has now been her final session, O’Connor was one of the five justices that ruled the Ten Commandments display in a Kentucky courthouse (McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky) was unconstitutional and overstepped the government’s neutrality on religion.

Going back in her career on the bench, in 2003, O’Connor upheld the right of state universities to use affirmative action as part of their admissions policies in Grutter v. Bollinger.

O’Connor has twice in the last four years been on the successful side of 5-4 decisions that upheld new campaign finance laws; and in 1992, O’Connor sided with a decision that made government-sponsored prayer not allowed at graduations, games, and other public school events.

With no Supreme Court nomination needed since President Clinton selected Stephen Breyer to the Court in 1994, and with more resignations quite possibly coming in the not-to-distant future, the process for the naming of a new judge will be tightly watched and even more thoroughly fought over.

So what is to expect in the coming weeks and months?

After all, this span of 11 years between nominations is the longest such period in over a century.

Less than half of the current Senate body was in office for the last Supreme Court confirmation.

22 months has been the average time between new nominees on the Court.

O’Connor received 91 votes for her confirmation, and Breyer moved through the Senate by a 87-9 count.

When Bush does name a candidate, using only American history as a guide, let alone any sense of current politics, his pick will by no means be guaranteed a successful confirmation from the Senate.

Out of 148 nominations made down through the history of the Court, the Senate has rejected 12, refused to vote on five; six nominees have been taken back by the President before reaching a Senate vote, and seven more have declined the nomination.

That makes 30 out of the 148 that did not serve on the Supreme Court despite being nominated.

The candidate will begin his or her journey through the Senate confirmation process in the Senate Judiciary Committee and must pass through the Committee before moving to the rest of the Senate.

The committee process is usually the most demanding segment of the confirmation process, as Senators get their opportunity to question the nominee one-on-one.

Once the committee hurdle is passed, a simple majority vote of the whole body is needed to confirm the president’s nominee.