O’Connor’s Supreme Court Resignation Prompts Abortion Rights Debate
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on Friday announced her resignation from the court, sparking a debate over abortion in the United States and the potential influence a new justice could have in deciding legal rights for abortion, the Washington Post reports (Von Drehle, Washington Post, 7/2). Since O'Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1981 by President Reagan, she has consistently voted to uphold abortion rights (Gibson, Baltimore Sun, 7/2).
In 1992, she sided with the majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey when it ruled to allow state limits on abortion as long as such rules do not create an "undue" burden on a woman or endanger her health (Washington Post, 7/2). In 2000, she was the deciding vote in overturning a Nebraska state law banning so-called "partial-birth" abortion. Her unexpected retirement could give President Bush -- who opposes abortion rights -- an opportunity to "shift the ideological balance of the court further to the right" by replacing her with someone more conservative on social issues, such as abortion rights, the Baltimore Sun reports (Baltimore Sun, 7/2).
But even if O'Connor's successor is an abortion-rights opponent, the court's support of the basic right to abortion as established under Roe v. Wade is not expected to change, the New York Times reports (Greenhouse, New York Times, 7/2). However, because O'Connor has been the deciding vote in several abortion-related cases, states could be allowed to institute further limits on the procedure if O'Connor's replacement votes against abortion rights, according to the Post (Washington Post, 7/2).
Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) on Friday said hearings for Supreme Court nominations likely will take place in September, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Specter, who will conduct the hearings, said he hopes to fill the vacancy by October when the court's next session begins (Kuhnhenn/Mondics, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/2). He said the committee is prepared to hold hearings as soon as Bush announces a nominee and might begin hearings as soon as August, CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 7/1).
Many observers say the upcoming nomination and confirmation for O'Connor's replacement will focus on abortion, and senators may use the issue as a litmus test for potential justices, the New York Daily News reports (Meek, New York Daily News, 7/2).