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Senators urge O'Connor to reconsider retirement

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Sandra Day O'Connor

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four senators -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor asking that she reconsider her decision to retire.

In a copy of the letter obtained by CNN, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-California, Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, urged the 75-year-old jurist to return to the court as the chief justice of the United States to avoid what could be a messy confirmation fight over her successor.

"As United States senators with the constitutional responsibility of 'advice and consent,' we would strongly recommend to President Bush that he nominate you as chief justice," the letter said.

"You are an extraordinary jurist who has served on the court since 1981. You possess moderation, dignity and integrity, and have demonstrated the highest standards of legal excellence.

"We believe such a history-making nomination by the president would demonstrate leadership that unites Americans around the shared values of liberty, the rule of law, and the preservation of our constitutional freedoms.

"We hope that you will give our request the serious consideration it deserves, should there be a vacancy for chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court."

The current chief justice, William Rehnquist, has said nothing publicly about stepping down, though he has been in ill health and observers have speculated that he may announce his retirement any day.

In recent years, the votes of O'Connor, who was appointed in 1981 by President Reagan and is considered a moderate conservative, often have proven decisive in key cases on the divided court.

If she were to replace Rehnquist, her former classmate at Stanford Law School, O'Connor would be the first female to become chief justice of the United States.

She already was the first woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, first floated the idea of her becoming chief justice last week on a television talk show.

The senators said they plan to take up the matter with Bush.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this story

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