A July 2 Style article about media reports on Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation from the Supreme Court incorrectly identified a spokesman for Fox News. He is Paul Schur, not Peter Schur. (Published 7/8/2005)
In the end, it was conservative commentators William Kristol and Robert Novak who correctly anticipated the sudden resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and Novak, a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, each had suggested that it would be O'Connor stepping down before the ailing William Rehnquist.
All eyes had been on the chief justice, who is battling thyroid cancer. But as she has done so often in her 24 years on the high court, O'Connor dominated the news from it.
It came as a surprise even to some of the journalists who cover her closely.
Joan Biskupic, a reporter for USA Today who has a biography of O'Connor in the works, said yesterday that she recently spoke to relatives of O'Connor who talked about work being a refuge for the jurist.
"Every way that I understood her, I never thought she would leave her job," Biskupic said.
"I didn't know until today that she was going to resign. I thought she would be reluctant to do so. . . . I think it just really shows her as an individual who is not going to listen to anyone, who can't be predicted."
Kristol decided to give it a shot. Calling it "well-informed speculation," on June 22 he wrote, "There are several tea-leaf-like suggestions that O'Connor may be stepping down, including the fact that she has apparently arranged to spend much more time in Arizona beginning this fall."
On the phone from Portugal, where he is attending an international relations conference, Kristol yesterday said that last month he called friends who were former Supreme Court clerks. There were signs, they told him. For example, O'Connor had hired only three of the four clerks she is allowed. His tea-leaf readers wondered if that meant she thought it better not to inconvenience a fourth person who would have to look for a job when she retired. The other big indicator, Kristol said, is that O'Connor had recently sold her house and moved with her husband into a condominium.
"All these things could have had other explanations, of course," he said, but "the thing that made it credible was also the increased talk about Rehnquist not stepping down.
"But if O'Connor wanted to step down, it would make sense . . . that Rehnquist would wait until she had stepped down and she had a successor. . . . Just putting all that together, then, it would seem reasonable that O'Connor would go first."
Novak, whose work appears in The Washington Post, wrote on Wednesday that "Justice Sandra Day O'Connor now is considered more likely to quit than ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist."
Novak said yesterday that he was tipped by a non-governmental source very close to the situation. He said he then had it confirmed by government sources.
"A lot of people from organizations outside the government on both sides, the left and the right . . . they have spent full time on the judicial nominations. This was one of those people and he had contacted me and I thought he really sounded like he knew," Novak said.
Novak and Kristol were out front with their predictions but it was Brian Wilson of Fox News, along with the Heritage Foundation, that led the day on the resignation.
The news was released to the media at 10:20 a.m., according to a spokeswoman for the court. Wilson, however, hit the airwaves at 10:11 a.m. He was at home and phoned in his report, says Peter Schur, a network spokesman.
"Brian Wilson has been working on this for a while, so he had an idea that it was going to be her," Schur said, adding that Wilson called in the news to anchor Brigitte Quinn and attributed it to three Capitol Hill sources.
A few minutes after the Fox report, the Heritage Foundation released an e-mail alerting news organizations, says Chris Kennedy, a press officer for the think tank.
Kennedy said Heritage had the story in the "9 o'clock hour" from "a source we had reason to believe had good knowledge of the bench." He was somewhat surprised that the foundation beat most of the media. The foundation e-mail landed at 10:15 a.m.
"I actually held that e-mail until one reputable outfit ran with the story," Kennedy said. He said the foundation had been watching O'Connor even more than Rehnquist.
"She is the swing vote. . . . This battle is going to be bloodier than Rehnquist because her spot on the bench is a little bit shakier," he said, referring to O'Connor's often independent opinions.