I AM talking about the news confirmed today that U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens will retire in June.
Stevens has served on the SCOTUS since his appointment by Gerald Ford in 1975 and has among the longest tenures on America's highest court.
My thoughts on this development (in no particular order):
- The "ideological balance," such as it is, on the SCOTUS will really not be effected by this news. Unless President Obama appoints a justice that ends up "going Souter" and changing sides, things will remain the same.
- Don't expect any of the "conservative" justices (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito and sometimes Kennedy) to retire anytime soon. Especially Scalia - they will now have to drag Nino's body out of his office before he would retire.
- The main issue, from the standpoint of dynamics on the court, remains the same: what to do about Anthony Kennedy? Stevens was good at building consensus or, if you like, getting Kennedy to agree with himself and the other "liberals." Without Stevens, Kennedy is still the justice to keep an eye on in close decisions.
- The new nominee will face tougher scrutiny in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate generally than (now) Associate Justice Sotomayor did last year. This is usually the case (Reagan with Scalia and Kennedy, G.W. Bush with Alito), except when it isn't (Clinton with Ginsburg).
- Stevens is considered the dean of the "liberal" faction of the court, but despises this term himself. This shift has been gradual, but accellerated in the 1980's. Who takes over for the liberals on the court. Senority says Steven Breyer, but who knows?
- It will be interesting to see how much "political capital" Obama is willing to spend on this process. The mid-term elections later this year are going to be rough and the confirmation hearings to replace Stevens might become the political story of the summer.
- Also, I wonder if these elections, with conservatives worked up, looking to take the President and his party down, will influence Obama's pick to replace Stevens. It shouldn't, but the possibility cannot be ignored. After all, we are dealing with career politicians.
- Stevens represents one of the last of a breed of federal jurists, it seems, for whom politics was a secondary concern. For his generation, the practice of the law was a noble one that carried majesty with it. That seems to be less and less the case.
- Successors? The list seems short, the also-rans from Sotomayor's nomination: Elena Kagan (U.S. Solicitor General), Diane Wood and Merrick Garland (both appeals court judges). I won't get into why I think this here, but I think Obama will pick Kagan.