So for months now, all the observers of the Supreme Court have been huddled around Chief Justice Rehnquist, wondering if he might announce a retirement this week. (Or, barring that news, perhaps he might add something else cool to his robes, to go with the Gilbert-and-Sullivan-inspired racing stripes he added there a few years back.) And then, suddenly, Sandra Day O'Connor has just announced that she's going to be the first one out the door.
While the Rehnquist retirement would have been important, given that we'd see the first new Chief in two decades, the president would've likely replaced that conservative with someone only slightly more conservative. O'Connor, however, is the Court's swing vote -- the moderate whose vote usually decides minor, piddling, uncontroversial issues like abortion rights, affirmative action, and the death penalty. This appointment could potentially complete the Court's transformation to full-on conservative and result in the overturning of Roe, Bakke, Lawrence, etc. etc.
When you add in the fact that Rehnquist will in all likelihood still retire, we have the potential for three confirmation hearings -- two for new appointments to the bench, and a third if Dubya decides to elevate someone like Scalia to Chief. The Antonin Ascension would be a catfight in Congress and, quite possibly, a Biblical sign of the coming of the apocalypse. And the other two appointments, given the past nominations by Dubya, would almost certainly involve more hardcore conservatives in the same mold.
Dear Lord, this is going to be a circus. Let's get ready to ruuuuuuummmmmbbbbblllle!