Supreme Cour t Jus t ice John Paul Stevens, the court's oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, is retiring. President Barack Obama now has his second high court opening to fill. Stevens said this morning he will step down when the court finishes its work for the summer in late June or early July. He said he hopes his successor is confirmed "well in advance of the commencement of the court's next term." Stevens' announcement leaves ample time for the White House to settle on a successor and for Senate Democrats, who control a 59-vote majority, to hold confirmation hearings and a vote before the court's next term begins in October. Republicans have not ruled out attempts to delay confirmation. Stevens' announcement, which came 11 days before his 90th birthday, had been hinted at for months. It's presumed Obama will nominate another liberal, so Stevens' departure wouldn't alter the court's philosophical makeup. Throughout his tenure, which began after President Gerald Ford nominated him in 1975, Stevens usually sided with the court's liberal bloc in the most contentious cases — those involving abortion, criminal law, civil rights and churchstate relations. He led the dissenters as well in the case of Bush v. Gore that sealed President George W. Bush's election in 2000. Stevens began signaling a possible retirement last summer when he hired just one of his usual complement of four law clerks for the next court term. He acknowledged in several interviews that he was contemplating stepping down and would certainly do so during Obama's presidency. Obama planned to address Stevens' retirement in statement in the Rose Garden later today. Chief Justice John Roberts said in a written statement that Stevens "has enriched the lives of everyone at the Court through his intellect, independence, and warm grace." Senate confirmations of Supreme Court justices have increasingly become political battles and this one will come amid the added heat of congressional election campaigns. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chai rman of the Senat e Judiciary Committee, appealed for civility. "I hope that senators on both sides of the aisle wi l l make this process a thoughtful and civil discourse," Leahy said. Looking toward those hearings, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, "Americans can expect Senate Republicans to make a sustained and vigorous case for judicial restraint and the fundamental importance of an evenhanded reading of the law." In a telephone interview, Leahy said he had suggested to Obama that "the wisest move" would be to plan confirmation hearings on the same midsummer schedule used for the nominations of Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Democrats have incentive to seat another justice before the November elections, in case Republican Senate victories make confirmation more difficult. Leahy said Stevens gave him a heads-up on his plans over a long lunch a few weeks ago. "I told him at the time I'd like to have him stay forever," Leahy said. Stevens officially informed Obama in a one-paragraph letter addressed to "My dear Mr. President." It was delivered to the White House by court messenger at 10:30 a.m. EDT, two minutes before the public announcement, on a day when the court wasn't in session.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens retiring
Published: Friday, April 9th, 2010
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