Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens retiring - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens retiring

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, he is retiring. President Barack Obama now has his second high court opening to fill.

Stevens said Friday he will step down when the court finishes its work for the summer in late June or early July. He said he hopes his successor is confirmed "well in advance of the commencement of the court's next term."

His announcement had been hinted at for months. It comes 11 days before his 90th birthday.

Stevens began signaling a possible retirement last summer when he hired just one of his usual complement of four law clerks for the next court term. He acknowledged in several interviews that he was contemplating stepping down and would certainly do so during Obama's presidency.

Chief Justice John Roberts said in a written statement that Stevens has earned the gratitude and admiration of the American people.

"He has enriched the lives of everyone at the Court through his intellect, independence, and warm grace," Roberts said.

The timing of his announcement leaves ample time for the White House to settle on a successor and Senate Democrats, who control 59 votes, to conduct confirmation hearings and a vote. Republicans have not ruled out an attempt to delay confirmation.

The leading candidates to replace Stevens are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appellate Judges Merrick Garland, 57, and Diane Wood, 59.

Stevens' departure will not change the court's conservative-liberal split because Obama is certain to name a liberal-leaning replacement. But the new justice is not likely to be able to match Stevens' ability to marshal narrow majorities in big cases.

Stevens was able to draw the support of the court's swing votes, now-retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justice Anthony Kennedy, to rein in or block some Bush administration policies, including the detention of suspected terrorists following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, its tilt toward protecting businesses from some lawsuits and its refusal to act against global warming.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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