It's Official: John Paul Stevens Will Step Down

It's official: Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens will retire from the Court, according to a statement released today by Chief Justice John Roberts.

In the statement, Roberts praised Stevens, who will celebrate his 90th birthday on April 20 this year. Here's the statement in its entirety:

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens has earned the gratitude and admiration of the American people for his nearly 40 years of distinguished service to the Judiciary, including more than 34 years on the Supreme Court.   He has enriched the lives of everyone at the Court through his intellect, independence, and warm grace.  We have all been blessed to have John as our colleague and his wife Maryan as our friend.  We will miss John's presence in our daily work, but will take joy in his and Maryan's continued friendship in the years ahead.

This verifies what almost everyone knew was coming, since Stevens hinted that he would retire to The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin in an article published in the magazine's March 22 edition. The justice had sent a signal to the Obama administration last year, hiring only one clerk for his chambers.

Speculation over Stevens's replacement had already begun, as had debate over whether President Obama would look to make a splash with his choice--whether he would pick a "fight" with Republicans by nominating an outspoken liberal, or a candidate with a stated preference for expansionist interpretation of the Constitution. Here at The Atlantic, Marc reported earlier this week that Obama probably wouldn't make a controversial pick.

In political circles, the Stevens-replacement process is being looked at through the lens of Obama's political capital: will Obama look to stay aggressive after the win on health care? Will he expend the capital he accrued from that victory? Or will he play it safe? And is it a fight he wants to have?

Since Obama went through this so recently, replacing Justice David Souter with Sonia Sotomayor only last year, the short list isn't too hard to figure out. Elena Kagan and Diane Wood figure to be in the mix for consideration.

Regardless of whom Obama picks, there will be rumblings of protest from the right--simply because liberals and conservatives do not see eye to eye on the issues that a Supreme Court justice can determine, most prominently abortion.

The present conservative movement touts a very strict (in some cases, one could almost say fundamentalist) interpretation of the Constitution, not just on matters like abortion, but on states' rights. For tea partiers, especially, everything is about the Constitution, and a return to stripped-down, conservative adherence to it. During Sotomayor's confirmation process, the tea partiers were too enveloped in their opposition to health care, and the fight against Sotomayor was restricted, mostly, to a few interest groups that focus explicitly on judicial nominees. Now that health care is over, it will be interesting to see whether the broader body of conservative activists gets riled up to protest Obama's replacement pick--even if that nominee is less controversial than Sotomayor.

No matter whom Obama picks--even if it won't be an aggressive choice--there will be some degree of a political fight ahead. The stories of White House interviews will be repeated, as will, most likely, the grilling and grandstanding of Sens. Jeff Sessions and Lindsey Graham when the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes, once again, to question the president's nominee.