The death of former chief justice William Rehnquist and the retirement of former justice Sandra Day O'Connor make the current term the first in 34 years in which the Supreme Court gained two new members in a single term. But the changes are more momentous than in 1972, when Rehnquist and Lewis Powell joined the court, for two reasons: They involve the important post of chief justice and the replacement of O'Connor, the court's most influential member.
For more than a decade, the moderate O'Connor was able to steer decisions, sometimes toward the court's more liberal members — John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer — and sometimes toward its conservatives: Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Anthony Kennedy often was in the middle with O'Connor, but more to the conservative side.
President Bush cited the conservative credentials of new Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito when he appointed them, but it isn't clear how they will affect the nation's law. As Roberts and Alito begin to define their roles, other justices are redefining theirs. Five to watch:
1. Anthony M. Kennedy: From the middle, an emerging power broker
2. John Roberts: New chief shows he'll likely be a force on the bench
3. David H. Souter: Shy justice begins to show an edge
4. Samuel Alito: New justice shows his conservative streak
5: John Paul Stevens: Liberal justice remains formidable