44 The Obama Presidency
Justice Stevens Hires Just One Clerk
Updated 5:30 p.m.
By Robert Barnes
It is tea-leaf reading time at the Supreme Court: Does Justice John Paul Stevens's decision to hire only one clerk for the term that begins in October 2010 mean this could be his last year on the court?
Stevens' office confirmed to the Associated Press that Stevens hired only one clerk this summer for the court's 2010-2011 term, rather than his usual contingent of four clerks. The justice's office did not address whether he was considering retiring, or if he would resume hiring clerks at some point.
Stevens already has hired all of his clerks for the term that begins Oct. 5.
It is unusual for Stevens not to hire all of his clerks at the same time, those who have worked for him say.
"Obviously, it's possible that he's thinking about retiring," said Christopher L. Eisgruber, a former Stevens clerk who is now provost at Princeton University. Eisgruber, who wrote a book about the Supreme Court nomination process called "The Next Justice," said he has no firsthand knowledge of Stevens's plans, but said it could be that the 89-year-old justice is simply keeping his options open.
"He could pick up the phone at any moment and hire first-rate clerks," Eisgruber said. "He may well feel he doesn't know what he wants to do and doesn't want to leave anybody in the lurch" by making the hires and then retiring. Retired justices are entitled to one clerk.
Stevens has served on the court since 1975, and is the leader of its liberal wing.
Any departure from the court would give President Obama his second chance to put his mark on the nation's highest bench. His first nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, began work on the court Aug. 8.
The hiring of clerks is sometimes a sign of the justices' plans, which are usually closely held. While the court does not officially announce clerks until just before the term begins, legal blogs closely follow the hiring. The Web site Above the Law, for instance, reported this summer that three justices already had completed hiring for the term that begins in October 2010, and another was halfway there.
It was Justice David H. Souter's delay in hiring clerks that led to speculation that he would be stepping down last spring. He left the court at the end of the term in June.
Justices tend to stagger their departures if possible, so that the court remains at full strength during the nomination and confirmation process. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 75, battled pancreatic cancer in the past year, but has said she is fully recovered and plans to remain on the court for several more years. She is one of the justices who has hired all four clerks for the October 2010 term.
Posted at 12:16 PM ET on Sep 2, 2009
44 The Obama Presidency
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