In a widely-expected move, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced April 9 that he plans to retire this year, giving President Obama another chance to place his stamp on the nation’s highest court.

Stevens, who turns 90 on April 20, said he wanted to give the president enough time to find and confirm his replacement before the Court’s new term begins in October.

“My dear Mr. President,” the justice wrote in a letter to the White House, “Having concluded that 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, I shall retire from regular active service as an Associate Justice…effective the next day after the Court rises for the summer recess this year.”

With a 34-year tenure, Stevens is the longest-serving member of the nine-member court. He is also the leader of the liberal wing of the court.

Hilary Shelton, vice president of advocacy and director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, said Stevens will be sorely missed by the civil rights community.

“He had a long and distinguished career of fighting for and upholding the full implementation of civil rights for everyone in this country,” Shelton told the AFRO. “He has been one of the stalwarts as the court has moved further and further to the right.”

“For racial minorities and others who relied on the courts to secure full participation in our democracy, Justice Stevens will be missed,” John Payton, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. “By waiting to retire until the age of 90, Justice Stevens surpassed any expectation of public service in the federal judiciary. We thank him for his tremendous contribution to the cause of justice and wish him a joyful retirement.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Steven’s announcement marks the end of an “extraordinary” judicial career. “Justice Stevens’ unique and enduring perspective is irreplaceable; his stalwart adherence to the rule of law is unparalleled,” Leahy said in a statement. “The federal judiciary, and indeed the entire nation, will miss his principled jurisprudence. While it is with a heavy heart, I wish him the best in his retirement.”

Leahy, whose committee oversees judicial nominations, said he expects President Obama to consult both Democrats and Republicans—as is his custom—as he considers the nomination. Leahy encouraged Capitol Hill lawmakers to be as careful and as fair throughout the nomination process.

“I hope that senators on both sides of the aisle will make this process a thoughtful and civil discourse,” he said.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO