Sun, Apr 11, 2010 - Page 7 News List

US Justice Paul Stevens to resign

POLITICAL BATTLEDemocrats hope for quick confirmation of a successor, fearing that lengthy partisan bickering over confirmation could sideline crucial legislation


Liberal US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced on Friday he would resign, and US President Barack Obama promised to name a successor quickly, setting the stage for an expected partisan election-year Senate confirmation battle.

Stevens, one of the oldest and longest-serving justices in history, sent a letter notifying Obama of his retirement this summer. Stevens, who turns 90 in 11 days, joined the court in 1975 after being appointed by former US president Gerald Ford.

An administration official said Obama was considering about 10 potential nominees to replace Stevens.

At the White House, Obama paid tribute to Stevens and said his nominee, like Stevens, would know that powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.

“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,” Obama said.

A bruising confirmation battle could sidetrack Democratic plans to focus on the economy and job creation ahead of November’s congressional elections in which Republicans hope to regain control of Congress.

In the Senate, which will vote on the nomination, Democrats praised Stevens and urged Obama to name someone who can continue his legacy while Republicans promised thorough scrutiny of any nominee.

Obama is expected to choose someone who will follow the same basic judicial philosophy as Stevens and is unlikely to change the court’s overall ideological balance, which has been closely divided with five conservatives and four liberals.

Stevens has supported abortion and gay rights and gun restrictions and opposed the death penalty. In recent major business cases, he wrote rulings allowing lawsuits against tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.

Obama said he would move swiftly to name a nominee to ensure the new justice was seated for the court’s new term in October. Stevens is retiring at the end of the current term, which lasts through June.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made clear his party would be heard in the confirmation process.

“Americans can expect Senate Republicans to make a sustained and vigorous case for judicial restraint and the fundamental importance of an even-handed reading of the law,” he said.

The opportunity to make a second appointment to the high court in just two years is a double-edged sword for Obama.

It gives him a chance to put his stamp on the court but also is likely to stall his agenda in Congress amid partisan bickering. Obama has made a series of centrist decisions that have angered both Republicans and his liberal base.

Last year, he named Sonia Sotomayor as the court’s first Hispanic, replacing Justice David Souter. She was confirmed on a largely party-line vote of 68-31.

Among the leading candidates for the opening are Solicitor General Elena Kagan and US appeals court judges Diane Wood and Merrick Garland.

Wood is one of the nation’s top experts on international competition law while Garland and Kagan do not have much of a record in business cases.

All are considered moderate liberals and could face varying degrees of Republican opposition. But even conservative activists said each probably would win a simple majority vote in the Senate, where Democrats hold 59 of 100 seats.

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