The Impact of Justice O'Connor's Retirement
may be considerably less than most people think. Or so I argue in the Opinion section of today's Los Angeles Times:
  Some court observers are predicting that the Supreme Court will be radically different without Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. I'm not so sure.
  Every year, the court decides a handful of closely divided cases with important ramifications for American life. In many of these cases, the court has divided into three camps.
  The first includes the four liberal justices: John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. The second consists of the three conservatives: Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and William H. Rehnquist. The last camp covers the two moderate swing votes: O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy.
  O'Connor's retirement removes a swing vote. But that may not have a dramatic effect on the outcomes of the court's biggest cases.
  I offer four reasons for this conclusion: Kennedy remains a key swing vote; O'Connor's replacement may not be very different from O'Connor; Rehnquist may resign, taking away a solid conservative vote that may roughly cancel out the impact of O'Connor's lost moderate vote; and respect for precedent will keep the Court from overruling most of the cases for which O'Connor provided the swing vote in the past.

  Of course, whether this is cause for rejoicing or dismay is in the eye of the beholder. But at least in the short term, I do think the stakes for the battle to replace O'Connor are somewhat lower than many people assume. (The long term picture is different and more complicated due to the cumulative effect of multiple resignations and replacements over time.)

  Oh, and I didn't write or have anything to do with the title for the piece. Titles for this sort of thing are written by the editors, not the authors.