AP's Gina Holland (a regular Supreme Court reporter) reports that Chief Justice Rehnquist's hospitaliztion increases speculation about his potential retirement - Speculation at a fever pitch over Rehnquist.
But, whether it's just a time for rumors, or whether it's reality, there are rumors swirling about the Court this summer. J. O'Connor has already announced, due to the Chief's health, an announcement is still expected from him...but, there is also speculation about other justices. Here, Professor Stephen Bainbridge (corporate law professor at UCLA and author of ProfessorBainbridge.com) says that he has it from a reliable source that Justice Stevens will resign if the Chief decides to go. In addition to that, there are must less reliable rumors that Justice Ginsburg has been struggling with her health and may be considering retirement this summer. Stevens is 85, Ginsburg is 72.
I still find it unlikely that either J. Stevens or J. Ginsburg would retire under Bush, the rationalization is interesting - that if Bush were given four vacancies that he would be forced to offer up one or potentially two moderate justices. I don't know, I'm not buying it. But all of these rumors really do bring up the age of this Court, a Court that remained intact for 11 terms.
Rehnquist - 80 (on Court since 1971; Chief in 1986)
Stevens - 85 (1975)
O'Connor - 75 (1981; retired this summer)
Scalia - 69 (1986)
Kennedy - 69 this summer (1988)
Souter - 65 (1990)
Thomas - 57 (1991)
Ginsburg - 72 (1993)
Breyer - 68 this summer (1994)
So - let's make the assumption that CJ Rehnquist joins J. O'Connor in retirement this summer, but that no other justice retires before the next election. By the end of the first term of Bush's successor (six years from now) you would have to expect that J. Stevens and Ginsburg would be gone by that time, but you'd also have Scalia, Kennedy, and Breyer in their mid-70s and Souter in his early 70s. It's not unimagineable that if Bush only gets two appointments the next President may get 5 or maybe 6. (Assuming that Thomas remains healthy, I would suggest that he would easily be healthy, and frankly in the prime of his career in Supreme Court terms, even if the next President were to serve two terms.)
That's a lot of responsibility.