Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, has announced that she is retiring.
The 75 year old Ms. O'Connor sent a letter to President Bush today-Friday stating that she will leave the court when her successor is nominated and confirmed. She said it has been a great privilege to have served on the Supreme Court for the past 24 years.
Over the years, Ms. O'Connor cast the deciding vote in many 5 to 4 cases that dealt with hotly contested issues such as abortion and the death penalty.
Her resignation is expected to set off an intense political battle between Republicans and Democrats over who will fill her seat.
The White House has been preparing for a potential Supreme Court vacancy. U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist is ailing with thyroid cancer, but has given no indication that he will step down.
This will be President Bush's first opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court Justice. The White House says Mr. Bush will make a statement about the resignation of Ms. O'Connor shortly.