William H. Rehnquist
Age: 78 // Years on Bench: 31
1 The speculation: As Republican appointees, O’Connor and Rehnquist are more likely to retire while a Republican is in office and during a nonelection year (read: This summer sure looks good). Otherwise, they risk having to wait at least another four years for an opportunity to quit should Bush stumble in 2004.
2 Why Gonzales? Yes, Rehnquist is a rock-ribbed conservative, and yes, some conservatives worry that Gonzales is not really one of them. But his close relationship with the president—and his track record of toeing the party line as White House counsel—should push him over the top.
Sandra Day O’Connor
Age: 73 // Years on Bench: 21
2 Why Gonzales? Yes, if O’Connor leaves, Bush will be pressured to appoint another woman. But who would complain if he appoints the High Court’s first Hispanic instead? Besides, Gonzales is considered a perfect ideological replacement for O’Connor: They’re both conservatives who swing moderate.
John Paul Stevens
Age: 83 // Years on Bench: 27
1 The speculation: Tick, tick, tick. Although Stevens is one of four liberals on the court and has made no statements to date about leaving (no surprise, since a Republican is in office), he’s the eldest justice. Conservatives believe time is on their side.
2 Why Gonzales? If Stevens leaves, conservatives will be drooling: Here’s their long-awaited chance to widen the court’s 54 gap. Democrats will be so worried that Bush will appoint a right-winger that they’ll happily accept a moderate, perceived or real. Gonzales fits the bill.