John Paul Stevens Cagey on Retirement Timeline

Parsing a Supreme Court Justice's cryptic comments

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The big Supreme Court news today is Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker profile on Justice John Paul Stevens. Stevens is the fourth-longest-serving Justice in the Supreme Court's history, the oldest of his present colleagues, and widely considered the liberal leader of the Court. His imminent retirement, according to D.C. consensus, could considerably alter the shape of this most elite bench. But is he really going to retire so soon? Experts are debating the timeline. Depending on when he does choose to take his leave, they say Obama could have quite a mess on his hands.

  • An Extended Stay?  That Stevens will retire soon is "conventional wisdom," writes Tony Mauro at the Legal Times blog. But he thinks "Stevens' new comments to the New Yorker seem to hedge that prediction somewhat," with the expansion of "soon" to "within the next three years."
  • But Bounded by Obama's Tenure?  Scotusblog's Lyle Denniston sees the "three years" quote as "a strong hint ... that Stevens is definitely thinking of retiring while President Obama is in office." He notes that the "three years" figure was mentioned while Stevens was "speaking of his admiration for the President." Stevens technically refused to name which president he'd prefer to have replace him, but Denniston doesn't seem persuaded by this.
  • Obama May Have Trouble Getting a Successor, thinks USA Today's David Jackson. Though his first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, got confirmed fairly easily, "a second court fight could be tougher, especially with Republicans threatening legislative retaliation if Democrats use reconciliation to pass a health care bill. And remember the GOP has just enough senators to stage a filibuster. And it's an election year." Jackson's diagnosis:
Remember last week's little dust-up between Chief Justice John Roberts and the Obama White House?

That will look like a frat party compared to the battle over the next Supreme Court opening.
  • Speaking of That Roberts 'Dust-Up'  Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway is among those picking up on another interesting feature of the profile: Stevens seems to comment on the spat between John Roberts and the White House over the State of the Union. Stevens, notes Mataconis, says he won't be attending any more State of the Unions, which he only went to in his early years in the Supreme Court. He thinks the addresses are "political occasions, where I don't think our attendance is required." Furthermore, they comes right in the middle of his preferred vacation time.
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