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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Another new justice in 2010?

The Associated Press is reporting today that Justice John Paul Stevens is giving signs that the coming Supreme Court term will be his last. In their report (see here), the news agency reads the tea leaves to note that Stevens has hired only one clerk for the 2010 term while the remaining justices have completed their rosters of four. Justice Stevens, who is part of the Court's liberal wing and one of the longest serving justices in Supreme Court history, is 89 years old, so retirement, if not imminent, has to at least be a yearly consideration. With a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate, this may be a unique opportunity for the Justice to exit gracefully while a like-minded replacement glides to easy confirmation. If he were to wait another year, Obama would still be president, but the Senate make-up would be subject to the outcome of the 2010 mid-term elections, a time when, traditionally, the out-of-power party tends to make some significant gains. If Stevens does indeed step down at the end of this coming term, Obama would be in a position to make his second Supreme Court appointment, always a significant part of a president's legacy. Among those who have been mentioned as potential nominees are Solicitor General (and former Peter Jennings Project board member) Elena Kagan; longtime University of Chicago and now Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein (who has been nominated by Obama to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs); Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Wood; Stanford law professor (and former PJP participant) Kathleen Sullivan; and former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. Once again, the president would be replacing one liberal with another, doing little to change the court's present 5-4 balance. But justices have a way of surprising those who nominate them, as David Souter did when, nominated by a Republican president, ended up siding with the liberal wing of the Court throughout much of his term there.


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