Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and a swing vote on many contentious issues -- has announced her retirement in a letter to President Bush.
Mr. Bush now has the first chance in 11 years to make an appointment to the nation's highest court, giving him an opportunity to expand his conservative agenda and setting the stage for a confirmation battle in the Senate.
The 75-year-old Justice O'Connor has served 24 years on the Supreme Court and was considered a moderate conservative. She cast the deciding vote in many 5-to-4 cases that dealt with hotly-contested issues such as abortion and the death penalty.
Mr. Bush said he will choose a nominee to replace her "in a timely manner," so the Senate can hold hearings and a vote before the court begins its next term in October. A White House spokesman says Mr. Bush will choose someone who "interprets the law" and does not try to legislate from the bench.