Justice Stevens Retirement Signals
Toward the end of every Supreme Court term, there’s speculation about which Justices might retire. Given his age and his relatively liberal proclivities, John Paul Stevens has naturally been at the top of the list. A while back, it was noted that he’d only hired one clerk for the upcoming session. Now, CBS’ Jan Crawford is seeing clues in his speech patterns.
Stevens is unpredictable, and he’s seemed as sharp as ever from the bench, so I thought maybe, just maybe, he would pull something out of his sleeve at the last minute and stick around for awhile.
Stevens spent a good 20 minutes this morning reading a summary of his scathing dissent in the campaign finance case. And he showed his age.
The language in his written dissent was forceful. But it was striking to see him appear to stumble over words as he read it, to mispronounce words like “corruption” and “allegation,” to seem to lose his place in his summary, to often hit the microphone with his hand or his papers.
Maybe it was just a bad day, and Lord knows we’ve all had those. And certainly it was the longest summary from the bench in some time. But it was so different from the John Paul Stevens we’ve come to know. He’s the maverick justice who asks pointed questions from the bench and cleverly makes his points, sometimes with sly dry humor.
If his mind is still sharp — and yesterday’s written dissenting opinion would lead me to believe it is — and he’s enjoying the job, having a bit more difficulty giving long orations isn’t much of a stumbling block. He’s a Supreme Court Justice, not a news anchor.
One presumes he’ll retire in the next year or two, since he’s getting up there in age and would likely prefer Obama, rather than a potential Republican successor, to appoint his replacement. But he’ll let us know. It’s a bit unseemly to hover over him like a vulture.