O'Connor, 75, came up as a graduate of Stanford law and judge in the Arizona Court of Appeals. With the retirement of Justice Potter Stewart in 1981, Ronald Reagan kept a campaign promise of nominating a woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in U.S. history, as TIME noted in a cover story, "The Brethren's First Sister". She was confirmed 99-0 in the Senate and took her seat on the Court in a wave of celebration ("A New Order in the Court", 1981).
Though she had been nominated by a Republican president, O'Connor did not always hold the conservative line in Supreme Court decisions. She had a reputation of approaching each decision on a case-by-case basis, rather than through a sweeping judicial philosophy (see "Establishing Her Independence", 1986). She was the critical swing vote in upholding Roe v. Wade in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, but voted to end the presidential ballot recount in 2000's Bush v. Gore.
Now, President Bush will nominate her replacement, with a Senate vote to confirm. Some of the potential choices: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see "Bush's Supreme Challenge", 2003) and federal appeals Judges J. Michael Luttig and John G. Roberts. Gonzales, who would be the first Hispanic justice on the court, is seen as the most moderate of the bunch and could face opposition from within Bush's party. Luttig is a conservative similar to Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, and has been a strong proponent of federalism. Roberts served in the Justice Departments of both Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
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