The Power of Independent Thinking


Stay Connected
Get the latest updates straight to your inbox.

News Release
July 1, 2005

Constitutional Law Expert William Watkins Says Justice O’Connor was Integral to Court’s Federalism Rulings

Oakland, Ca.— July 1, 2005—Today’s resignation announcement from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, has surprised observers who believed that Chief Justice William Rehnquist would retire first due to his recent bout with thyroid cancer.

“Sandra Day O'Connor has been an important fixture on the Rehnquist Supreme Court and has been integral to its federalism jurisprudence,” says attorney William J. Watkins, Jr., Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. “In the last decade we have heard much about the Court's so-called New Federalism decisions. O'Connor often gets much of the blame for these decisions. But through its federalism cases, the Rehnquist Court exposed American lawyers to a forgotten history of constitutional law–a history of a limited federal government deferring to state governments on a variety of issues. These opinions also offered cogent reasoning on why federalism is relevant to modern America. Juxtaposed to the Warren Court’s policy papers that passed for legal opinions, the Rehnquist Court offered a more coherent jurisprudence and an alternative to consolidation of power in Washington, D.C.,” says Watkins, author of a recent book, Reclaiming the American Revolution.

O'Connor said she expects to leave before the start of the court's next term in October, or as soon as the Senate confirms her successor. It has been 11 years since the last opening on the court, one of the longest uninterrupted stretches in history. Her departure gives President Bush the opportunity to make his first appointment to the Supreme Court. Speculation about O’Connor’s successor already includes a long list of names such as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and federal courts of appeals judges J. Michael Luttig, John Roberts, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Michael McConnell, and others.

“Gonzales is a great choice for Justice if you are left of center, but is a conservative's nightmare,” says Watkins, a constitutional law expert. “He has served on the National Council of La Raza<, a Hispanic organization that supports such items as the "DREAM Act," which would mandate states to offer in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens—thus providing them with benefits not available to U.S. citizens from other states. And, he is no friend of the Second Amendment— during his confirmation hearings for Attorney General he told the U.S. Senate he supports extending the expired federal assault weapons ban.”

Now that O'Connor will resign, observers are left wondering if Chief Justice Rehnquist will be next and how their successors will affect the Supreme Court in the coming years.

Contact: William J. Watkins, Jr. / 864-304-4737

# # #

  • Catalyst