From the Associated Press, moments ago:
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court’s oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, says he is retiring. President Barack Obama now has his second high court opening to fill….
Stevens says he will step down when the court finishes its work for the summer in late June or early July.
His announcement Friday in Washington had been hinted at for months. It comes 11 days before his 90th birthday.
Stevens began signaling a possible retirement last summer when he hired just 1 of his usual complement of four law clerks for the next court term. He acknowledged in several interviews that he was contemplating stepping down and would certainly do so during Obama’s presidency.
The timing of his announcement leaves ample time for the White House to settle on a successor and Senate Democrats, who control 59 votes, to conduct confirmation hearings and a vote. Republicans have not ruled out an attempt to delay confirmation.
The leading candidates to replace Stevens are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appellate Judges Merrick Garland, 57, and Diane Wood, 59.
Stevens’ departure will not change the court’s conservative-liberal split because Obama is certain to name a liberal-leaning replacement. But the new justice is not likely to be able to match Stevens’ ability to marshal narrow majorities in big cases.
Stevens was able to draw the support of the court’s swing votes, now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Justice Anthony Kennedy, to rein in or block some Bush administration policies, including the detention of suspected terrorists following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, its tilt toward protecting businesses from some lawsuits and its refusal to act against global warming.