Sandra Day O'Connor, first woman on the Court and perpetual swing vote, is retiring. Personally, I expected Rehnquist to retire before O'Connor - and I think I would have preferred that. Since Rehnquist's retirement (and Bush's subsequent right-wing nominee) wouldn't have changed the balance of the court at all, the confirmation fight would be a little bit less of a circus. But now, Bush gets the opportunity to replace a "moderate" with a Scalia-Thomas conservative.
A reasonable President would look at the poisonous partisan atmosphere on the Hill and attempt to win a little goodwill by nominating a moderate. Pounding a conservative through the inevitable filibuster threat will only create more bitterness and disaffection from the people. Sadly, we don't have a reasonable President. Bush will probably take the bait, since he has no sense of compromise. (He seems to have forgotten the "advice" part of the "advice and consent" doctrine.)
I'm not sure I like anyone that is poised to be nominated. How could anyone like a short list where Alberto Gonzalez is the moderate choice? My guess: Bush will go with Michael McConnell, a judge who ruled (along with the Court) that city governments should not be liable for failing to enforce their own restraining orders. He may try to nominate a woman to serve on the Court - but I have this dread that he'll pick Janice Rogers Brown, who is quite possibly the most egregious conservative judicial activist since the pre-New Deal courts.
Watch out, folks. This confirmation battle ain't gonna be pretty.