I wasn't too worried by Chief Justice Rehnquist's expected retirement. After all, he's so conservative already that replacing him with a Bush appointee would not change the Court's composition that drastically.
But then, today, comes the distressing news that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has submitted her resignation to the President. Justice O'Connor has been a true centrist on the Court and has been the swing vote - and the elegant author - of many a 5-4 decision over her near quarter-century's service. The effect of filling her seat with a Bush ideologue is incalculable. Abortion, the death penalty, the First Amendment - these are just a few of the areas in which an O'Connor vote has been decisive and in which a Bush lackey would likely have voted the other way.
This is a sad day, a day that marks a new stage in the erosion of so many of the freedoms we cherish. And it only stands to get worse from here. John Paul Stevens is doing his best Thurgood Marshall imitation, trying to hand on through the storm of a right-wing president, but it is only a matter of time before he must leave the Court as well. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has battled health issues of her own. It's difficult to overstate the terrifying concentration of ideology on a Court that featured the two-headed monster of Scalia and Thomas, Rehnquist or another just like him, and three Bush appointees.
Up until today, the Court had gone a record 11 years without a change of Justice. O'Connor's retirement is just the beginning of the new era. It's going to be a long, scary ride from here.