O’Connor’s Importance

A front page story from today’s Washington Post reads, “There was no more important seat on the court than O’Connor’s…” This is a canard that has been repeated over and over again in the media. It is true that O’Connor was a swing vote on many important issues and that her vacancy is more significant than a Rehnquist retirement (in which case we’d just be trading one conservative for another). But how could someone argue that her vacancy has more of an impact on the court than if a liberal justice such as Ruth Ginsburg retired and was replaced by a conservative?