A story in the house organ of the Republican Party, The Washington Times, claims that a Supreme Court vacancy is unlikely this year:
Any prospects for a partisan fight this summer over confirming President Bush's first Supreme Court nominee appeared to dim recently after justices agreed to hear a contentious case in September, signaling that the bench will remain unchanged at least until then.
The author of the article acknowledges the conventional wisdom that one or more vacancies will occur, but dismisses the CW:
Most analysts expecting a retirement consider Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 78, or Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, 73, the most likely to depart, even though each plays a key role in the most sharply split cases and both still write books and pursue activities outside the court.
The true dark horse is Justice John Paul Stevens, who at 83 is an avid tennis player said to abhor letting a conservative Republican choose his replacement.
Sources who have contacts with Chief Justice Rehnquist said they doubt he plans to quit, and he bandies words with those brash enough to raise the question....
Justice O'Connor's only public comment about her position on the court was to dampen speculation she might be elevated to chief justice. When asked, she replied, "I'm too old," the Christian Science Monitor reported.
"It's very possible that they won't retire," said Artemus Ward, author of "Deciding to Leave: The Politics of Retirement From the United States Supreme Court."
"Why retire when you're at the top of your game?" he said.
Now, here's the interesting part:
After the chief justice visited Mr. Bush at the White House in December, both parties let it be known his mission was a hunt for allies to raise judicial salaries.
Skeptics of that account consider the visit a pretext for a nominating-strategy session.
I think they've had a long-term plan to use the GOP Senate majority combined with high postwar Bush approval ratings to ram through a couple of knuckledraggers starting this summer -- but now they see that Bush's ratings aren't in the 90s, and that the recent tactics of combative Judiciary Committee Democrats aren't upsetting the public at all. I think this Rehnquist-Bush meeting was a nominating-strategy session, and what was discussed was "Whoo-ee, we're getting our asses kicked on lower-court nominees, so let's wait until after the '04 elections to pack the Supreme Court."
The WashTimes article goes on to say,
Because no one expects a vacancy during next year's presidential campaign year — absent death or disability — the next two weeks would be the last real chance for an appointment until June 2005.
So maybe Schumer, Leahy, et al. have won a significant battle.