Supreme Court Justice Stevens To Step Down

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The oldest member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, has just announced that he will retire this summer, after 35 years in office.

Stevens will leave his position at the end of the court’s term, in late June or early July of this year. The timing of his retirement, he said, is intended to give President Obama time to name a successor—and the Senate time to confirm that successor—“well in advance of the commencement of the court’s next term” in October.

Stevens, who is nearly 90, was nominated to the nation’s highest court by President Gerald Ford in 1975. He has typically been a liberal voice among the justices, and is perhaps best known for his ability to sway swing votes—include those of Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor—and muster a narrow majority in controversial cases. He was able to block or limit some Bush administration initiatives, including the detention of suspected terrorists after 9/11, by persuading fellow justices, but was in the dissenting minority in the case of Bush v. Gore following the 2000 election.

Now, with the conservative Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts on the bench, Stevens is more often in dissent. His retirement is not expected to change the political makeup of the Court, because President Obama is likely to name a liberal replacement, but getting that replacement confirmed may be a different story; Republicans in the Senate are expected to block confirmation, especially since hearings will occur at the height of midterm election campaign season.

Stevens, who is a veteran of World War II, is also respected for being an eloquent and prolific writer. He has traditionally written even the first drafts of opinions, a task usually reserved for law clerks.

Stevens has been hinting at his retirement for some time now, stating in interviews that he would step down from the bench during Obama’s first term in office. And at the beginning of the current court term, he hired only one law clerk, instead of his usual four.

Some of the potential replacements for Stevens include the Solicitor General, Elena Kagen, 49; federal appellate Judge Merrick Garland, 57, of Washington; and federal appellate Judge Diane Wood, 59, from Chicago.

This will mark President Obama’s second nominee to the Supreme Court; Justice Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed in August 2009.

 

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