Video: O'Connor's legacy

msnbc.com
updated 7/1/2005 12:45:48 PM ET 2005-07-01T16:45:48


With Friday's announcement by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor that she is retiring, politicians are bracing for a fight over who President Bush will nominate to take her place.

According to Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University who discussed her retirement Friday on MSNBC Live with Amy Robach and Randy Meier, O'Connor's legacy will play a huge role in that fight.

"This is a Court that has been divided for decades, 5-4, and more often than not, that fifth vote was hers. She is someone, particularly in the areas of women's rights and abortion, but also in areas like environmental law and others, has been the swing vote. It's been O'Connor and (Justice Anthony) Kennedy often to tip the Court to the middle or to the left," he said.

"That also makes her a powerful symbol. For Republicans, she is viewed as an unreliable justice who often seemed very political," Turley said. "For liberals, she was often seen as that thin black line of justices that protected them from a rout as the Court changed from the Warren Court to the Berger and Rehnquist Courts. She is indeed an icon for that reason."

O'Connor was a difficult Justice to characterize, according to Turley. He noted that her conservatism in some areas, such as state's rights and private property rights contrasted greatly with her more-liberal record on women's rights and abortion.

With that in mind, he noted that whomever President Bush decides to nominate to take O'Connor's place, the move will be looked at as symbolic by both sides.

"With (a possible retirement by Chief Justice) Rehnquist, the White House might have ironically had more leeway. With O'Connor, she's been such a lightning rod for both sides," Turley said.

"Conservatives will view this as the quid pro quo. This is what the president campaigned on. If she is replaced by someone like Alberto Gonzales, it will be viewed by many as something of a betrayal," he said. "This could not get more difficult."

Gonzales, who would be looked at negatively by many conservatives, would also be a target for liberal groups unhappy with his role in crafting a memo on the use of torture by U.S. troops when he was White House Counsel.
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However, with his more moderate conservative record and many Republicans hoping to make more inroads with the Hispanic vote, his nomination is still a possibility, Turley said.

"The appointment of a Hispanic is high on the list of many Republicans, it's a group they've been trying to secure," Turley noted. "But the other Hispanic candidate that's been talked about is Judge (Emilio) Garza on the Fifth Circuit. He would trigger a battle royal over abortion, because he's indicated that he disagrees with Roe v. Wade."

To watch the entire interview with Jonathan Turley, click on the 'launch' button in the video player. MSNBC Live with Amy Robach and Randy Meier can be seen weekdays from 9 a.m.-Noon.

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