July 1, 2005

What does the O'Connor retirement suggest about a possible Rehnquist retirement?

Orin Kerr has a bunch of questions on the occasion of the O'Connor announcement. Here are the related questions #3 and #4:
3. The big question now is whether the Chief will announce soon as well. I'm not sure whether SOC's retirement makes the Chief's more or less likely — any thoughts?

4. Interesting that after years of SOC retirement rumors, she retires after a Term in which most people were looking to another Justice to retire.

I think we should still expect the Chief Justice to retire and see the retirement of O'Connor as a sign that the retirement is more likely. I know in the past Justices have waited a year to let the attention be given to another retiring Justice -- at least that was the case when Justice Blackmun retired one year after Justice White. But that was back at a time when there were a lot of retirements in succession. I think that now, with all these long years without a vacancy, processing two nominees together would help the transition.

The political arena is going to go absolutely wild even over one new Justice, and it seems to me that having two to confirm at once would be a way to control and manage the emergent hysteria. There would be more leeway in political negotiations with two vacancies, and less attention to the very specific interest in replacing the first woman with another woman. And we could have one crazy summer instead of two. Whether easing the political battle is a factor the Chief would or should take into account is another matter.

From William Rehnquist's personal perspective -- not that it's for me to say -- it would seem that he's lived with and accommodated himself to a familiar group for so long, that it would be difficult, especially for an older, ailing person, to deal with a newcomer. Perhaps not. Perhaps it would be energizing to welcome a new colleague, a fresh, young ally. Frankly, if I were old and ailing, I might want to stay in the thick of stimulating, new experiences.

1 comment:

Wave Maker said...

I think Justice O'Connor sees her earlier retirement as increasing the odds that the scales are not tipped too far right in the replacement of two justices. Everyone would have expected an even trade at Rehnquist's retirement -- but if there's a big battle over her replacement initially (i.e., if W comes out of the box with a sturdy idealogue and wins), the Chief's empty seat may be more heatedly contested.

I think Justice O'Connor is playing her hand the way she believes she must to try to maintain the 5-4 split (perhaps a sisyphean task, but ya play with the cards ya dealt).