WASHINGTON (BP)--Liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said Friday he will retire this summer, an announcement that wasn't surprising considering his age but one that will give President Obama his second opportunity in as many years to put his stamp on the court.
Stevens' departure almost certainly won't change the court's ideological makeup, because Obama likely will name a left-leaning replacement who will hold the same legal philosophy as does Stevens, who some considered the leader of the court's four-member liberal bloc.
Stevens, who will turn 90 on April 20, was a consistent supporter of legalized abortion and opponent of religion in the public square, and his vote rarely pleased social conservatives.
"I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities -- an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people," Obama said after receiving a letter from Stevens announcing his pending retirement.
Nominated by President Ford in 1975, Stevens' retirement had been the source of speculation for years, and picked up steam last year when it was learned he was hiring only one law clerk for the upcoming term instead of the standard four. His health apparently did not play a factor: Court observers consistently remark that Stevens appears to be in great shape for his age.
"This is perhaps the most solid indication of many that the Democrats expect to have major losses in the November elections, and Justice Stevens wants his successor to be picked by a Senate that has 59 votes in the Democratic caucus rather than one that has 50 or less," Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press.
Land said he expects Obama to pick a successor "probably at least as liberal" as Stevens, "given the president's track record with Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor and his nominations to the appellate court."
Stevens was confirmed two years after Roe v. Wade and appeared at first he might at least lean conservative -- he voted in 1978 with a 5-4 majority to uphold the FCC's authority to restrict indecent speech -- but he eventually made his voice as a social liberal known.
In 1980 he was on the losing end of a 5-4 ruling in which the majority said the government did not have to fund abortion in the Medicaid program. Also in 1980 he sided with a 5-2 majority in striking down a Kentucky law that had required a copy of the Ten Commandments be posted in each public school classroom. In 1984 Stevens was on the losing end of a 5-4 decision that upheld the display of a nativity scene in a city's public area. Read More