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Supreme Court Justice O'Connor Resigns

Said Frist, "In the face of obstacles, including being a woman in a male-dominated law profession, she never surrendered her determination" or her "Southwestern pride." He noted that her office has a sign that reads: "Cowgirl parking only. All others will be towed."

Throughout her tenure, O'Connor has never "wavered from her well-grounded views," Frist said. He called her "an independent thinker" who has "not allowed the pressures of popular opinion to sway her decisions."

Elizabeth Holtzman, a liberal Democrat from New York who served for eight years in the House and was a member of the Judiciary Committee, said O'Connor's resignation represents a blow to the equilibrium of the court because of her frequent crucial role in 5-4 votes.

"She broke the sound barrier for women" on the high court, Holtzman said in a telephone interview. "She'll be missed because she was a pivotal vote with regard to choice. I'm very concerned that President Bush will try to appoint somebody who will seek to overturn Roe v. Wade." She referred to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Although O'Connor was considered conservative, Holtzman said, "she was not a predictable, knee-jerk kind of justice." Holtzman said she hoped O'Connor would be replaced "by a woman who shares some of her values."

Nancy Keenan, president of an abortion rights group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement: "We'll look back on Justice O'Connor as someone who put reason ahead of ideological fervor, which stands her in sharp contrast to many of the judges who might replace her if the radical right gets its way."

But Christian conservatives were not happy with O'Connor's judicial actions with regard to abortion.

The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, the director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said O'Connor's retirement was a chance to roll back abortion. " If she's gone, there is an opportunity to get a ban on partial-birth abortion," he said. "Now there may be an opportunity to make some inroads in the abortion debate."

Senate Democrats roundly praised O'Connor. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) urged Bush to keep O'Connor's legacy in mind as he ponders a nominee.

"America is a better place today because Sandra Day O'Connor was on the court," Dodd said. "I haven't always agreed with her decisions, but I've always admired the reasonableness with which she came to those decisions."

Staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this report.

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