Archive for Friday, April 9, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court’s leading liberal to retire at summer’s end

April 9, 2010, 9:47 a.m. Updated April 9, 2010, 10:57 a.m.


— Supreme Court Justice 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 Friday 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 had been hinted at for months. It comes 11 days before his 90th birthday.

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 church-state 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 with a 1:20 p.m. EDT statement in the Rose Garden.

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., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appealed for civility. "I hope that senators on both sides of the aisle will 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."

Stevens 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 court's public announcement. The news came on a day when the court wasn't in session.

White House counsel Bob Bauer telephoned the news to Obama on Air Force One, as he returned from a trip to Prague.

The leading candidates to replace Stevens are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appellate Judges Merrick Garland, 57, in Washington and Diane Wood, 59, in Chicago.

Stevens' departure will not change the court's conservative-liberal split because Obama is certain to name a liberal-leaning replacement, as he did with his first nominee, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. But the new justice is not likely to be able to match Stevens' ability to marshal narrow majorities in big cases.

Stevens was able to draw the support of the court's swing votes, now-retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justice Anthony Kennedy, to rein in or block some Bush administration policies, including the detention of suspected terrorists following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, its tilt toward protecting businesses from some lawsuits and its refusal to act against global warming.

But after the arrival of Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, President George W. Bush's appointees, Stevens more often was among the four liberal justices in dissent.

Stevens' recent dissent in a major case involving campaign finance laws showed both the eloquence of his writing and, in his stumbling reading of his opinion in the courtroom, signs that his age might at long last be affecting him, though he remains an active tennis player and swimmer.

He is the court's last World War II veteran and that experience sometimes finds its way into his writings, recently in a reference to Tokyo Rose, the English-speaking Japanese radio announcer who addressed U.S. soldiers in the Pacific.

Stevens had a reputation as a bright and independent federal appeals court judge when Ford, acting on a recommendation by Attorney General Edward Levi, nominated him to the Supreme Court.

His friendly manner of questioning lawyers who appeared before the court could not hide Stevens' keen mind. His questions often zero in on the most telling weaknesses of a lawyer's argument and the case's practical effect on everyday people.

A pleasant, unassuming man, Stevens has been a prolific and lucid writer. For many years, he wrote more opinions each court term than any other justice.

Most justices let their law clerks write the first drafts of opinions, but Stevens has used his clerks as editors.

He'd write the first draft and submit it to the clerks for comment. "That's when the real fun begins," Stevens once told a visitor. "The give and take can get pretty fierce."

As a result, his opinions have reflected his personal writing style — a conversational one that contrasted sharply with the dry, dull efforts of some other justices.

He had said that one sign of his time to retire would be an inability to churn out those first drafts. But he insisted in recent days that he was still writing them.

A member of a prominent and wealthy Chicago family, Stevens spoke proudly of being a Cubs fan who was at Wrigley Field for the 1932 World Series game when Babe Ruth supposedly pointed to the spot where he would hit a home run. He met many celebrities of the day when they stayed at his family's hotel in Chicago, including aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart.

Stevens graduated from the University of Chicago. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he earned a law degree from Northwestern University, finishing first in his class. He later taught antitrust law at both schools.

In 1979, Stevens became only the second justice to divorce while serving on the court. Stevens and his first wife, Elizabeth Jane Sheeren, had four children. He later married a former Chicago neighbor, Maryan Mulholland Simon.

An avid bridge and tennis player, Stevens also is a licensed pilot. From autumn through spring, he and his wife routinely travel to his condominium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"I lead an average life, just like anybody else," Stevens once told an acquaintance. "I play bridge, play tennis, try to play better golf. I'm very comfortable here."

Even in his late 80s, Stevens said he swam every day and continued playing tennis several times a week. He described reading legal briefs on the beach, noting his colleagues' jealousy when in court one day he opened a brief and grains of sand spilled out.


Flap Doodle 8 years, 1 month ago

Maybe Dear Leader will nominate himself......

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 1 month ago

Or maybe he'll nominate someone even you could approve of-- someone like, oh, say, Attila the Hun, snap.

1029 8 years, 1 month ago

Have they posted this anywhere? Is there a site where you can apply online? This seems like an exciting opportunity and I've been out of work ever since Family Video closed.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 1 month ago

And for what it's worth, Stephens, who was nominated by Gerald Ford, has always considered himself a Republican, and says it's his party that's changed, not him.

Thinking_Out_Loud 8 years, 1 month ago

Wow. Would it be too much to see a series of posts that say something like: "Here is a person who devoted his life to public service. Even though I did not always agree with him, and was not always happy with his decisions, I always had great respect for his dedication and commitment to our country. I hope we are fortunate enough that his successor brings a similar level of commitment and integrity, and I recognize that I will not always agree with the new justice. Thank you, Justice Stephens, for your service and enjoy your hard-earned retirement."

Hm. Perhaps it would.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 1 month ago

Stevens was nominated by that liberal socialist Gerald Ford.

Our president, Barack Hussein Obama, is a black man of Kenyan ancestry. The supreme court seats a wise latina woman! When will this end? Take to the streets teabaggers! Take your country back! Hutareeee!

Suck on a black president and a latina justice binky, cry-baby right wingers.

Sad trombones for cry-baby right wingers.

beatrice 8 years, 1 month ago

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!


1983Hawk 8 years, 1 month ago

Whoever it is, the wack job right-wingers will be huffing and puffing this summer about the unacceptability and judicial activism of the new nominee, even as McConnell and his group of lemmings in the Senate gear up for a months-long filibuster.

Fixed News, the WSJ, Washington Times and other "fair and balanced" media outlets will decry the supposed leftward drift of the Court away from "states rights" and other sacred tenets that they like to assert only when they find it convenient.

After all, I can't recall hearing a helluva lot of complaints about "judicial activism" or the federal judiciary trumping a state supreme court decision when Scalia and his gang of five came running in and ordered the vote counting to stop in Bush v. Gore.

And what an inspired bit of activism it was. How the hell did that next 8 years work out for us all, especially members of the National Guard and military?

Thinking_Out_Loud 8 years, 1 month ago

Actually, 1983Hawk, neither Justice Scalia nor any other member of the Court "came running in" looking for this case. The case was brought to them, and was within their jurisdiction. The Supreme Court did not decide the election; they decided only a matter of law based on the facts of the case, specifically whether the recounting violated the Equal Protection clause. It is disengenuous to suggest that the Court, or members thereof, were scheming for an activist way to tilt the election.

imastinker 8 years, 1 month ago

Who's crying? We're just trading one liberal for another.

feeble 8 years, 1 month ago

He's going to nominate Kagan. She already was confirmed by the full Senate in 2009 for her Solicitor General post. The conservative opposition in the Senate would be put on the defensive, trying to explain why they voted for her a year ago, but are unwilling to vote for her now.

staff04 8 years, 1 month ago

Sounds like she's near the top of the list.

Just for the right-wing 'head-splosion' factor, I think he should nominate Bill Clinton.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 1 month ago

I'm sure our Pantone 138 Kansas-heritage Dear Leader will amaze us all. Wonder how much to pay-to-play is for a Supreme Court seat?

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 1 month ago


The president is near! The president is near!

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 1 month ago


The president is near! The president is near!

beatrice 8 years, 1 month ago

This is me pressing what I hope will some day be a "block comments from this user" button.

K_Verses_The_World 8 years, 1 month ago

False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin, Only a matter of time til night comes stepping in. Bob Dylan - Jokerman

Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. Proverbs 28:4-6

preebo 8 years, 1 month ago

So far, the only intelligible comment has come from "feeble." Politically (and for expediency's sake) this would be the wisest approach to this appointment. Mrs. Kagan is a brilliant legal mind, and a great scholar of the law. Not only is she adequately qualified for the position of Associate Justice, she, like Stephens, is a true legal mind - an eternal student of the law. She has made it known on numerous occasions both in class and elsewhere, that a judge should have a legal philosophy that is entirely separate from their political viewpoint. It is from the former that judgment should come forth. I have had the pleasure of learning from her while at Harvard Law some time back and I believe that she would make an excellent addition to the Court.

As for Justice Stephens, I have studied his opinions over the years and found him to be an equalizer to either Thomas or Scalia. His opinions are thoughtful yet concise, and his rulings are poignant. He served this nation and justice well and his intellectual nature will be missed in the coming sessions.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 1 month ago


Why are you wasting your time posting here? You should be in the streets battling against this socialist utopia. How can you stand by while it happens? Are you chicken?

Teabaggers, rebel! Our president, Barack Hussein Obama, is a black man of Kenyan ancestry. Take to the streets. Take our country back! Hutareeeeeeeeeeeee!

Sad trombones for cry-baby right wingers. Waaa waaa waaa waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 1 month ago


I am rich and am doing just fine. I am also responsible and contribute to greater society.

Not a right-wing cry-baby who spits his binky because of our black president.

Tough binkies for cry-baby right wingers.

Corey Williams 8 years, 1 month ago

Sorry Tom, missed Rush today. I'm guessing he went into great detail about this? What about Savage? What does he have to say?

wamola 8 years, 1 month ago

I say nominate Tiger Woods or the Pope. Think of how happy the news media would be, and as we all know, it's not actually about politics it's about selling newspapers that convince us to keep selling guns and ammo to impoverished countries so that in ten years we can have another war to help thicken the newspaper/arms owners wallets. Absurdity is the name of the game hence forth I guess. None of this matters till the bankers and arms dealers are tried at Nuremberg for crimes against two centuries.

Stephen Roberts 8 years, 1 month ago

Autie- please do not forget unions in your posts. You speak of corporations with disgust, the same way I feel about unions. The LEA, UAW etc are still greating and promoting mediocracy, thankfully I am not in an union. There are people who jolin the LEA because they are afraid they will be fired and want their protection.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 1 month ago

Cry baby right wingers should not be held responsible for their views. They are sucking tough binkies with a black president. Go easy on cry baby right wingers.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 8 years, 1 month ago

sara Palin!!!!

A wise moose-hunter.

A great ice fisher of men!!!!!!

Caraboo barbie for Justice!!

We need some more entertainment!!!

ivalueamerica 8 years, 1 month ago

And don't forget, she can see russia from her back window.

Kirk Larson 8 years, 1 month ago

It's funny how Stevens was considered moderately conservative when he was nominated. Him being regarded as liberal says more about Rhenqust, Scalia, Alito, and Roberts than it does about him.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

I'd like to see the republicans filibuster everything else that hits the senate on behalf of the American people.

yourworstnightmare 8 years, 1 month ago

Oh me too. That would really show our black president. After all, right wing cry babies are sucking tough binkies with a black president. Five the little guys a break. No is all they know.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

I wouldn't care if the president was Pantone 100. I'd just like to see the republicans filibuster everything else to mitigate the damage already done to our country by the democrats. You should obsess over people's color a little less.

"No is all they know." No is all they need to know.

independant1 8 years, 1 month ago

Let the partisan games begin!!!

Whoever the pres nominates you can bet it'll be contencious.

They'll Bork 'em in the eye

Scalia 'em on a spit

And hang the nominee by their Thoms

My fav sport.

independant1 8 years, 1 month ago

The republicans will find the achilles heel, the anita heel, the benny heel, the fanny heel of any nominee.

That's the state of the body politic today.

You got to sorter give and take in this old world. (Will Rogers)

independant1 8 years, 1 month ago

The press will be in their usual feeding frenzy. They've replaced lawyers in the food chain.

tomatogrower 8 years, 1 month ago

If Obama nominated Ann Coulter or Palin, the nutcase rightwingers would still be against the nomination. If would be fun to watch them attack their own though.

Liberty275 8 years, 1 month ago

That's funny. The right-wingers on this board know that I disagree with a lot of their core beliefs (ie religion, drugs, prostitution, abortion, flag burning etc) , yet none has ever a cross word for me.

The right is a lot more tolerant of people with divergent opinions than people on the left can even dream of being. I doubt they will be attacking their own.

independant1 8 years, 1 month ago

Putting the kabash on judicial nominees is from the Dem playbook. As is activism a la Teaparty.

The curious thing is Dems are all out of sorts when they are emulated.

In general Repubs are the more civil bunch in Congress (as in polite or common courtesy).

independant1 8 years, 1 month ago

If you're young and conservative you have no heart, if you're old and liberal you have no brain. (who said that?)

Commenting has been disabled for this item.