The battle begins. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has announced her retirement today.
This is a much bigger deal than Rehnquist's retirement would have been. There isn't much room for Rehnquist's replacement to have been that much worse than Rehnquist (though I get myself into trouble every time I make statements like that -- in 2000, could we have predicted any of the mess that Bush has gotten the US and the world into?), so it would have maintained the status quo on the Court (albeit with a younger justice who could stay around forever) while we pray for the health of John Paul Stevens and elect a Democratic president in 2008.
O'Connor is another story. Yes, she cast the key swing vote to elect Bush in 2000. But she has also been part of narrow majorities to uphold Roe v. Wade, Lawrence v. Texas, affirmative action, and more. It is inconceivable that even the best of Bush nominees will keep the balance the same on these issues, let alone improve it on others.
The conventional wisdom is that O'Connor and the other right-wing justices felt a twinge of remorse after their coup d'etat in Bush v. Gore, and therefore didn't retire during Bush's first term, lest it be said that their decision in Bush v. Gore was motivated to ensure right-wing successors for themselves.
But the justices can't take credit for Bush's election in 2004. As our Commander-in-Chief has said, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."
[Update: This paragraph re-edited for clarity.] If you voted for Bush in 2004, because you thought it couldn't get any worse, or you thought he was "good for Israel", or you wanted to take revenge on Saddam Hussein for 9/11, or you're in the upper echelon of income and wanted the tax cut, or you wanted to phase out Social Security and replace it with "let them eat cake", then you have full responsibility for the extremist wingnut whom Bush will appoint in the next few days, and for the havoc that s/he will wreak on the Constitution and the country. (Will he be so brazen as to make a recess appointment over the 4th of July recess? No one would do such a thing, which means that Bush just might!) If you were paying the full costs for your actions, you would be tortured in Guantanamo and die from a botched coat-hanger abortion.
But don't worry, justice never works out that way; the price will be paid by the poor and the brown. God bless America.