John Paul Stevens Retires

It’s official: John Paul Stevens has handed in his resignation.

john-paul-stevens-retiresSupreme 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.”

The timing of 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 conduct confirmation hearings and a vote before the court’s next term begins in October. Republicans have not ruled out an attempt to delay confirmation.

Stevens’ announcement had been hinted at for months. It comes 11 days before his 90th birthday.

The only question was whether he’d hang on another year. And, since he only hired one clerk instead of the customary four, the presumption has long been that he wouldn’t.

Speculation on replacements has been ongoing for awhile but we’ll likely get a liberal appointee but one who isn’t a firebreather. That’s just the nature of having a liberal president and a Senate that’s almost impossible to navigate. The end result will be a wash, replacing a moderately liberal Justice (albeit one appointed by a moderately conservative president) with a perhaps slightly more liberal one. The difference, of course, will be that the replacement will be decades younger.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Supreme Court, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dantheman says:

    “but we’ll likely get a liberal appointee but one who isn’t a firebreather.”

    Extremely likely. Obama has shown no desire to have bruising battles on confirmation while so much else is on his plate.

    My prediction is that this moderately liberal nominee will not get more than 65 votes, and will likely be subject to holds and/or filibuster attempts, as the pressure on Republican Senators to obstruct and vote no will be immense, regardless of the merits of the nominee.

  2. Instead of the usual liberal/conservative dichotomy, perhaps we should label prospective Associate Supreme Court Justices as proponents of the Constitution or proponents of the living Constitution, i.e., proponents of the rule of law or proponents of the rule of man.

  3. Extremely likely. Obama has shown no desire to have bruising battles on confirmation while so much else is on his plate.

    Oh? Of course, he can’t use recess appointments to fill these slots.

  4. Wayne says:

    If Obama nominates a liberal, Republicans should filibuster and force the Democrats to use the “nuclear option” or strike a deal in rules changes to guarantee judicial nominees get up and down vote after a certain amount of time. That way when a Republicans becomes President once again they won’t have deal with what Bush went through.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Stevens contribution to the Court goes far beyond the ideological. He had far more personal and organizational talent to put together a five-vote group than anyone else on the court.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    If he really wanted to mess with the conservatives Obama could nominate a pro-choice liberal Republican. Someone like Lincoln Chaffee, say. It would have the effect that posing a paradox has on a 60’s-era science fiction computer. “That does not compute . . . whirrr. . . spark . . . does not . . .bang!”

  7. floyd says:

    “Messing with conservatives” seems a bit of an ignoble ambition considering the impact on the lives of more than 300,000,000 Americans, but apparently it is motive enough to satisfy some of our basest instincts. But then it doesn’t take much to depress Marvin now does it!
    I agree that it would cause a bit of consternation on all sides though.

  8. floyd says:

    I predict Robert Bork!

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    My Top 5 Supreme Court Nominees:

    1) Olympia Snowe. (Pro-choice moderate Republican, we can win ME.)
    2) Lady Gaga. (Does not have a d*ck, friends with Beyonce.)
    3) Anyone Asian, (because the GOP hasn’t done enough to alienate the Asian community.)
    4) Conan O’Brien. Hey, he’s got free time.
    5) Simon Cowell. (See #4 above.)

  10. floyd says:

    How about Obama nominating himself, then stepping down. He is, after all, qualified.
    {a “community organizer” would fit right in!} And… he would get that lifetime appointment he’s after!
    Besides, wouldn’t Biden make a great president?
    [That is after he is taught to sign his name]