Talk about ending the summer with a bang! The AP’s Mark Sherman confirms today that Justice Stevens has only hired one of his four law clerks for next year, which of course is setting off widespread speculation that the 89-year-old senior justice will be leaving the Court at the end of this term.
(Remember it was Mark who reported back in April that Justice Souter hadn’t hired any of his clerks for this year. That story sprung the leak that Souter was, in fact, planning to head home to New Hampshire this summer for good.)
Stevens has shown no signs of slowing down -- he’s an active questioner from the bench and appears as engaged as ever. But because of his age -- and his wife’s reportedly declining health -- Stevens has been the odds-on favorite as the next justice to retire. As Mark points out, he typically hires clerks well in advance -- so the fact that he’s only hired one (retired justices get one law clerk, instead of four) could be a signal.
Although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had surgery earlier this year, it was detected early enough she has said she has no immediate plans to retire -- as she told Justice Souter when he approached her earlier this year about his own hopes to retire if she planned to stay. She told him she did, so he went.
And while Stevens’ retirement would give President Obama his second Supreme Court nomination, his departure -- like that of David Souter -- would not change the balance of the Court. Though nominated by Republican President Gerald Ford, Stevens is a solid liberal vote. And with a solid majority of Democrats in the Senate, Obama would have little trouble replacing him next summer with someone as liberal or more so.