[JURIST] Justice John Paul Stevens [official profile; Cornell LII materials] of the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] announced Friday that he plans to step down [press release] at the end of the court's 2009 term this summer. In a letter [text, PDF] to President Barack Obama, Stevens wrote, "it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court's next Term." There had been much speculation about Stevens's possible retirement, and leading candidates for his replacement reportedly include Solicitor General Elena Kagan [official profile] and federal appellate Judges Merrick Garland and Diane Wood.
Stevens, 89, was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford and was seated in December 1975. He previously served on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Stevens is the court's oldest and most senior member and has served as the leader of the court's liberal bloc. His retirement gives Obama his second opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice, following last year's retirement of Justice David Souter and confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor [JURIST reports].
3:40 PM ET – In a statement [text] later Friday, Obama thanked Stevens for his service and said he would seek a successor with qualities similar to those he saw in Stevens:
Once again, I view the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee as among my most serious responsibilities as President. And while we cannot replace Justice Stevens’ experience or wisdom, 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. It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. Much like they did with Justice Sotomayor, I hope the Senate will move quickly in the coming weeks to debate and then confirm my nominee so that the new Justice is seated in time for the fall term.