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Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s departure from the high court heats up the judicial nominations battle, while also creating a political bind — and an opportunity — for President Bush and a focal point for interest groups.

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s departure from the high court heats up the judicial nominations battle, while also creating a political bind — and an opportunity — for President Bush and a focal point for interest groups.

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor hated being called the Court’s swing vote. And she never thought being the Court’s first woman made much difference.

“A wise old woman and a wise old man reach the same conclusion,” she was fond of repeating.

But now that O’Connor has made the stunning announcement that she is retiring at age 75, both her status as a swing vote and as the Court’s first woman take on enormous importance in the titanic battle that is almost certain to follow President George W. Bush’s announcement of her replacement. A nomination could come as soon as this week.

Much more so than the retirement of any other justice, O’Connor’s departure puts hot-button issues — most notably affirmative action and abortion rights — in play, raising the already high stakes to a historic level.

“Any seat is important, but this is the one that’s going to make the difference,” says Theodore Shaw, executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “Her leaving will have the most profound effect on the Court.”

British MP George Galloway and his opponent the Daily Telegraph will leave no stone unturned to sort out what could be a spectacular libel case.

One of the authors claiming Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code copied his ideas has admitted he exaggerated his case in an interview with a journalist.