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John Paul Stevens Hints This Will Be His Last Supreme Court Session

Jeffrey Toobin’s nice profile of 89 year-old Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens deserves more than a news peg, so I urge you to read it all. But I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the big news coming out of it:

With the election of Barack Obama, the question of Stevens’s retirement has become more pressing. Even though Stevens was appointed by a Republican President, many assume that he would never willingly have turned his seat over to George W. Bush. I asked Stevens about his plans.

“Well, I still have my options open,” he said. “When I decided to just hire one clerk, three of my four clerks last year said they’d work for me next year if I wanted them to. So I have my options still. And then I’ll have to decide soon.” On March 8th, he told me that he would make up his mind in about a month […]

As for Obama, Stevens said, “I have a great admiration for him, and certainly think he’s capable of picking successfully, you know, doing a good job of filling vacancies.” He added, “You can say I will retire within the next three years. I’m sure of that.”

This was not unexpected for Stevens, given his advanced age and his position as a liberal (though he has always considered himself a moderate Republican) on the Court. Whether President Obama gets to make that appointment this year or sometime in the next two, the question then becomes: who will get it? Toobin, who wrote the article and knows a thing or two about the Court, suggested on NPR yesterday that Elena Kagan, the Solicitor General of the US (responsible for trying cases for the government before the Court), would get the nod.

“They [the Obama administration has] very much suspected that a vacancy is imminent and I think they do have a candidate in mind and frankly I think I know who it is. I think it’s going to be Elena Kagan, the current solicitor general and the former dean of Harvard Law School,” Toobin said.

He continued, “She has a reputation as a consensus builder. She is someone who brought vigorously fighting factions at Harvard together. She worked in the Clinton administration and had good relationships with Republicans in Congress at the time. She has never been a judge, which I think is a point in her favor for Obama. There are all former judges on the court now, and I think Obama wants people of more different backgrounds. So I think she’s the likely choice.”

Here’s a profile of Kagan from last year, when she was a possible choice to replace David Souter. As you can see, the President will tout her as a wise and judicious moderate, when Republicans will call her a dangerous out-of-the-mainstream radical who could be convicted of firebombing the Pentagon at any moment.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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