Justice John Paul Stevens has hired only one law clerk so far for the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010-11 term, raising the possibility that the 89-year-old might retire next year.
Stevens, like other justices, typically hires four law clerks for each term and usually has completed his hiring by this time of year. Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg on Wednesday confirmed an Associated Press report that Stevens has hired only one clerk for 2010-11. Retired justices can have one clerk and keep an office at the court.
“It would be out of character for Stevens to hire more clerks when he knew he was going to retire,” said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School in Washington. He said the news that Stevens had hired just one clerk was an indicator the justice might step down.
A Stevens departure would mean a second vacancy for President Barack Obama, whose first Supreme Court appointee, Sonia Sotomayor, will hear arguments in her first case next week. Stevens is the leader of the court’s liberal wing, supporting abortion rights, affirmative action, and protections for accused criminals.
Stevens, the court’s oldest justice by 16 years, has shown no visible signs of slowing down. He plays tennis every week with his daughter, Virginia lawyer Susan Mullen. She beat him 6-4 in their most recent match, she said in an e-mail.
“The justice still hits a mean drop shot,” Mullen said. She said the subject of retirement isn’t something the two discuss.
Stevens produced some of the court’s most significant opinions in the nine-month term that ended in June. He wrote the majority opinions when the court said patients can sue pharmaceutical companies for failing to provide adequate safety warnings on federally approved drugs and when the court let smokers sue over the marketing of “light” cigarettes.
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt declined to comment.