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BUSH'S SUPREME COURT NOMINEE

O'Connor's Role Likely to Be Symbolic

October 04, 2005|David G. Savage

WASHINGTON — A smiling Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was in her seat at the Supreme Court when the term began Monday morning, despite having announced her retirement in July.

Her presence may be mostly symbolic, however. That is because the justices' votes count only when a decision is handed down, and it usually takes several months for the court to decide an important case.

If White House counsel and high court nominee Harriet E. Miers wins Senate confirmation by December, O'Connor would be gone before the court handed down its first set of significant rulings.

One high-profile case will be heard Wednesday. Lawyers for the Bush administration are challenging Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, a voter-approved measure that permits dying persons to obtain lethal medication from a doctor.

If O'Connor's retirement occurs before the court decision becomes official, and the remaining eight justices who heard oral arguments in the case split 4-4, then the justices would probably have the case reargued before the new nine-member court.

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