All the papers lead with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s resignation. O’Connor was the first woman on the United States Supreme Court where she served for 24 years and was often a crucial swing vote on a number of contentious cases involving such divisive issues as abortion, affirmative action, and religion. O’Connor’s resignation, which came in the form of a three-sentence letter delivered to the White House, caught Washington by surprise as all speculation about a justice resigning in recent weeks centered around Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. She gave no specific reason for her retirement except that she’s 75 and wants to spend more time with her husband, who is said to have Alzheimer’s disease.
The Los Angeles Times mentions that O’Connor looked worried and sad on the court’s last day of the term on Monday, as she helped steady a weak Rehnquist and they walked off together. The New York Times is quick to point out that the resignation means the court has its first vacancy in 11 years, thereby ending the longest period without change since the 1820s. The Washington Post says that O’Connor’s crucial tie-breaking role in the court made her “perhaps the most influential woman in public office in U.S. history” and public surveys often listed her as one of the most admired women in the country. (Slate’s compilation of past articles on O’Connor and her legacy is currently being discussed.)
All the papers preview the upcoming battle over O’Connor’s replacement, which promises to be heated because everyone sees it as key to the future of the Supreme Court. Politicians and interest groups were getting ready for Rehnquist’s retirement, but the fight over replacing the reliably conservative chief justice was not seen as being crucial because it would not have meant a change in the court’s balance of power. Conservative and liberal groups are starting public campaigns that are likely to rival presidential ones in ferocity and money. “No matter what side you’re on, everything you’ve believed in, everything you’ve cared about, everything you’ve fought for is at stake,” Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way, said to the NYT.
The NYT describes many of the possible candidates from the list that had already been drawn up in preparation for Rehnquist’s retirement and compares their different styles. The different implications of O’Connor’s retirement, however, mean that the list might change to add more women, as there are currently only two. (The WP dedicates a short article to each of the 12 candidates it considers to be on the shortlist, which includes three women.) Some have also suggested that Bush might put on hold his desire to appoint the first Hispanic judge. (Slate wrote about possible Supreme Court nominees last week.)
The WP fronts, and the NYT goes inside with, the continuing search for missing U.S. troops in northeastern Afghanistan. On Tuesday, a Special Operations helicopter that was sent to the area to look for them was shot down, killing all 16 people aboard. U.S. commanders lost contact with the missing troops on Tuesday shortly after they came under enemy fire. A spokesman for the Taliban said they killed seven of the men, but U.S. officials claim there is no evidence to support the claim. In the past three months there has been a sharp increase in violence in Afghanistan that has resulted in the death of 45 U.S. military forces (the NYT uses AP numbers and says 29 American troops have been killed, along with 465 suspected insurgents, 125 civilians, and 43 Afghan policemen and soldiers).
All the papers go inside with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder deliberately losing a confidence vote in order to be able to hold early elections in September. The chancellor currently has an 18 percent approval rating and the increasing divisions within his party led him to announce that his coalition does not have the ability to fix the German economy. The vote of no confidence means that Schroeder can now ask the president to dissolve parliament and, assuming the Supreme Court approves, there will be new elections.
The LAT gets word of a group of U.S. investigators who have concluded that Iranian president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not the person escorting an American hostage in a 1979 photograph. The investigators found several important discrepancies between the photograph that some claimed was of Ahmadinejad and other photos of him at the time. According to LAT’s source, the investigation into Ahmadinejad’s possible role in the hostage crisis is “still an open question” and continues to be investigated.
All the papers mention that lawyers for Matthew Cooper from Time magazine and Judith Miller from the New York Times asked that if the reporters must be jailed that the sentence be limited to home detention, or to specific federal prisons. Lawyers for Cooper argued that he should not be incarcerated because Time magazine turned over the notes that reveal his sources. Miller’s defense argued she also shouldn’t be jailed because she has made it clear she will never hand in her sources, so jailing her would not result in Miller obeying the court.
The NYT fronts the death of Luther Vandross, one of the most famous R&B singers, who was best known for his romantic voice and songs. Vandross was successful throughout the 1980s but he did not find true commercial fame until 1989 with the release of The Best of Luther Vandross, the Best of Love. Throughout his career, Vandross won eight Grammy awards, four of them in 2004. Although the 54-year-old musician’s cause of death was not announced, the medical center where Vandross died said he never recovered from a stroke he suffered in 2003.