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Supreme Court Justice O'Connor Resigns

Although O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, one of the most conservative presidents in history, she resisted the efforts of her conservative colleagues in a number of important areas.

She helped modify the right to abortion but blocked the efforts of conservative colleagues to overturn it.

She rejected challenges to the use of affirmative action in higher education, instead endorsing its use in narrow circumstances in the interest of "effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our nation. . . ."

In what may be her most memorable opinion, she was willing to grant considerable deference to the Bush administration's antiterrorist detention policies but drew a firm line at the policy of detaining individuals without independent review.

O'Connor's unique status as the first female on the court, combined with a gregarious public presence unusual for the government's most monastic branch, made her unquestionably the best-known justice in modern times, greeted by strangers in airports and on the streets and always named on pollsters' lists of America's most powerful and most respected women.

Her memoir, a personal recollection of childhood on her family's vast working-ranch in Arizona, was a best-seller.

Her role as the "swing vote" on the court brought her even more attention, with a few commentators renaming the court of her era not the Burger Court or the Rehnquist Court but the "O'Connor Court."

She arrived on an ideologically divided high court during a period of unprecedented challenge to established law on issues such as abortion, affirmative action, church-state relations and criminal justice.

She put her stamp on each of these fields, not by adopting an agenda, but by avoiding one. With colleagues often locked into predictable conservative or liberal position, this made her a consistent swing vote, a strategic role she deployed to moderate the extremes, in case after controversial case.

In effect, she stood politely but firmly in the way of the conservative strategy for the court that was so dear to the followers of Reagan, who appointed her in 1981.

As word of her retirement announcement spread, tributes poured in from across the political spectrum.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said, "Today marks a great loss for America, but it's also a day to reflect on all that we have gained because of Justice O'Connor's service to our country." He praised her "brilliant mind and her fair and impartial judgment."


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