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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.

By Robert Barnes  |  September 2, 2009; 12:16 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , Court Watch , Supreme Court , The Courts  
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Yes read the tea leaves. Because it's very unusual for a 100 year old man to retire.

What's that - he's not 100? Oh right, he's only 89. So young, so young.

Posted by: bandmom22 | September 2, 2009 9:07 PM | Report abuse

I hope the Democrats start just ignoring the slimers! I am so disgusted with the lies they have been telling about health care reform.

Posted by: dotellen | September 2, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse



Posted by: | September 2, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Maybe with the lack of cases before the Court, Justice Stevens doesn't think it's necessary to hire more and is taking some responsiblity to reduce his budget.

Well maybe!

Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | September 2, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Stevens next year; Ginsberg in the second term. I'm sure the conservative justices won't be retiring as long as they're still respiring. So it's important to replace older liberals with younger ones in the short term so that the balance doesn't tip further to the right.

Posted by: mikeinmidland | September 2, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

"...or for God to intervene."

God won't intervene. Haven't you heard? God is a conservative and a Republican, and He hates liberals and Democrats. God wants only far right conservatives on the Court. We know this because moral giants Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson told us so.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | September 2, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

the brouhaha over sotomayor was a light spin compared to the heavy cycle the wingnuts have in mind if kennedy decides to hang it up. stevens, like souter is a wash for them, but look at the slime that was thrown getting souter replaced. the whackjobs are desperate about the supreme court. its their last redoubt against a calendar that refuses to quit turning.

Posted by: jimfilyaw | September 2, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

The resignation of Stevens while a loss of a great Justice, would leave the Court basically unchanged. I would expect both him and Ginsburg to retire during Obama's first term. The only way the make-up of this Court will change is if one of the older conservatives, Scalia and Kennedy, were to retire(fat chance)or for God to intervene.

Posted by: Opa2 | September 2, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

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