President Obama said Friday that he will move quickly to name a nominee for Supreme Court justice following John Paul Steven’s retirement announcement earlier that day.
“As Justice Stevens expressed to me in the letter announcing his retirement, it is in the best interests of the Supreme Court to have a successor appointed and confirmed before the next term begins. And so I will move quickly to name a nominee, as I did with Justice Sotomayor,” Obama said.
The president said he views the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee as among his most serious responsibilities and that he will seek someone “in the coming weeks” with qualities similar to that of Stevens.
Such qualities, Obama said, include "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."
“It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” Obama added. “Much like they did with Justice Sotomayor, I hope the Senate will move quickly in the coming weeks to debate and then confirm my nominee so that the new Justice is seated in time for the fall term.”
Earlier in the day, Stevens sent a letter to the White House notifying the president of his retirement from the Supreme Court.
Stevens, who reported in March that he would decide in about a month whether he would go on for another year, revealed his plan to retire one day after the Supreme Court rises for the summer recess this year after having served for 34 years.
“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,” Stevens wrote in his one-sentence letter.
Though Stevens is a little more than two years away from having the longest tenure in the court’s history and about one year away from becoming the oldest-ever serving justice, the 89-year-old judge has made clear that he has no interest in breaking any records.
He also said in an interview with The New Yorker last month that he has “great admiration” for President Obama and said he was “sure” that he’d retire within the next three years – roughly around the time Obama will complete his first term as president.
“I’d rather not answer that,” Stevens said when asked if it mattered to him which president named his replacement.
But he added later, “I … certainly think he (Obama)’s capable of picking successfully, you know, doing a good job of filling vacancies.”
With the stage set for Obama to name a replacement, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said it's likely the president will name a nominee "who will embrace an extremely liberal judicial philosophy."
"Make no mistake about it – this appointment really represents more than just replacing one vote on the court," Sekulow cautioned. "With a replacement who is likely to serve for 30 or 40 years, it's clear this replacement will have a long-term impact on judicial philosophy and likely play a determining factor in decisions for decades to come."
Since he was appointed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975, Stevens has shifted from the ideological center of the court to the left, which he presently leads.
When Stevens retires, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will replace him both as the eldest member of the court and also the leader of the court’s liberals.
Notably, however, Ginsburg has suffered from a range of health problems and has also been thought to be one of the most likely to retire next.
But the 77-year-old justice expressed last year her desire to remain on the court for several more years.
Presently, the swing vote on the closely divided court is almost always cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy.