Friday, July 1, 2005; Posted: 10:38 a.m. EDT (14:38 GMT)
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman to join the U.S. Supreme Court.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court and a key swing vote on issues such as abortion and the death penalty, said Friday she is retiring.
O'Connor, 75, said she will leave before the start of the court's next term in October, or when the Senate confirms her successor. There was no immediate word from the White House on who might be nominated to replace O'Connor.
It's been 11 years since the last opening on the court, one of the longest uninterrupted stretches in history. O'Connor's decision gives Bush his first opportunity to appoint a justice.
"This is to inform you of my decision to retire from my position as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, effective upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor. It has been a great privilege indeed to have served as a member of the court for 24 terms. I will leave it with enormous respect for the integrity of the court and its role under our constitutional structure."
The White House has refused to comment on any possible nominees, or whether Bush would name a woman to succeed O'Connor. Her departure leaves Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only other woman among the current justices.
Possible replacements include Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and federal courts of appeals judges J. Michael Luttig, John Roberts, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Michael McConnell, Emilio Garza and James Harvie Wilkinson III. Others mentioned are former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, lawyer Miguel Estrada and former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson, but Bush's pick could be a surprise choice not well known in legal circles.
Another prospective candidate is Edith Hollan Jones, a judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who was also considered for a Supreme Court vacancy by President Bush's father.
O'Connor's appointment in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, quickly confirmed by the Senate, ended 191 years of male exclusivity on the high court.
She wasted little time building a reputation as a hard-working moderate conservative who emerged as a crucial power broker on the nine-member court.
O'Connor often lines up with the court's conservative bloc, as she did in 2000 when the court voted to stop Florida presidential ballot recounts sought by Al Gore, and effectively called the election for President Bush.
As a "swing voter," however, O'Connor sometimes votes with more liberal colleagues.
Perhaps the best example of her influence is the court's evolving stance on abortion. She distanced herself both from her three most conservative colleagues, who say there is no constitutional underpinning for a right to abortion, and from more liberal justices for whom the right is a given.