Stevens to Vacate High Court This Year

Posted April 9, 2010 at 9:50am

Updated: 11:25 a.m.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, viewed as the high court’s leading liberal, has informed President Barack Obama that he will step down later this year, setting up the second Supreme Court confirmation fight of Obama’s young presidency.

Stevens, 89, was nominated to the court by President Gerald Ford in 1975 and served on the court for 34 years. Although nominated to the court by a Republican, Stevens has consistently been one of the court’s most influential liberals.

In an April 9 letter to Obama announcing his retirement, Stevens said he believes it is in the best interest of the court if he steps down before its next term begins in the fall.

“Having concluded that it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court’s next Term, I shall retire from regular active service as an Associate Justice … effective the next day after the Court rises for the summer recess this year,” Stevens wrote.

Stevens’ timing likely means the White House will be forced to make a nomination within the next several weeks — the vetting and confirmation process for Supreme Court justices typically takes months, even during relatively calm political times. It also sets up a major battle for his replacement in the Senate in an election year.

Obama’s second confirmation is likely to be particularly brutal and could stretch well into August or beyond.

Chief Justice John Roberts praised his colleague’s tenure on the court. “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,” Roberts said in a statement.

Names topping the list of possible replacements for Stevens include Solicitor General Elena Kagan and federal appellate judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland. Each was a leading contender prior to Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the high court last year.

Other names that have been floated include Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Stanford University law professor Pamela Karlan, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D).

Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.