2ND LEAD (Adds details)

Justice Stevens to retire from US Supreme Court

[TamilNet, Saturday, 10 April 2010, 03:44 GMT]
90-year old John Paul Stevens, the longest serving member and anchor of the liberal wing of the United States Supreme Court, has announced that he is to retire, giving President Obama a second chance to recalibrate the ideological mix of the Supreme Court, legal sources in Washington said. "He has enriched the lives of everyone at the court through his intellect, independence, and warm grace," Chief Justice John Roberts said in a written statement.

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens
US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens
"A Republican named to the court in 1975 by President Gerald R. Ford, Stevens leaves a legacy of defending abortion rights, expanding protection for gays, restricting the availability of the death penalty and ensuring a robust role for judges in interpreting the nation's laws and curbing executive power," Washington Post said, outlining Stevens' judicial philosophy.

Even if Stevens is replaced with a Judge who does not shift the ideological balance, Stevens' departure will change the inner workings of the Court, the Post said.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan
Solicitor General Elena Kagan
Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
Judge Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
Judge Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
"As the senior justice, he speaks second, after Roberts, in the private conferences in which the court makes its decisions. If he, instead of the chief justice, is in the majority, Stevens decides who will write the court's opinion. Legal experts say that at times he turned over an opinion to Kennedy, or former justice Sandra Day O'Connor, to secure five votes for limiting the death penalty, for instance, or defending affirmative action," Washington Post said.

The Post named Solicitor General Elena Kagan, whom Obama appointed as the first woman to hold the post, Judge Diane P. Wood of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, and Judge Merrick B. Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as the front runners for the post that has life-long tenure.

Senator Arlen Specter, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of Stevens: "In his 34 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Stevens has been pivotal in maintaining balance on the interpretation of constitutional law as the court has moved decisively to the right. His scholarly 2004 opinion in Rasul v. Bush, tracing the development of habeas corpus since the Magna Carta provided the basis for the court's landmark 2008 decision on Boumediene v. Bush limiting the president's detention power. His dissents in Bush v. Gore, and Citizens United rank with the classic dissenting opinions of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis that later became law of the land," in an opinion piece in this week's Washington Post.

While the US constitution gives the president sole authority to appoint Supreme Court justices, any appointment Obama makes must be approved by a majority vote in the Senate. Before facing a vote, nominees are called before the Senate Judiciary Committee where they are asked to testify about their judicial philosophy. The televised event is closely watched, discussed and debated by the national audience.

Once appointed, justices can - if they want to - serve on the court for the rest of their lives. They are allowed to retire or resign, and can be forced out of office by congressional impeachment. Potentially, however, and in practice, Supreme Court justices serve on the court for decades.

Related Articles:
27.07.09   Supreme Indiscretion
03.07.05   Supreme Difference

External Links:
OYEZ: Boumediene v. Bush (2007)
OYEZ: Gore v. Bush (2000)
WP: Justice John Paul Stevens announces his retirement from Supreme Court
OYEZ: Rasul v. Bush (2004)
BBC: US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to retire
BBC: Q&A: US Supreme Court
WP: The life and times of Justice Stevens
OYEZ: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission


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