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Associated Press

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Retiring

Mark Sherman

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's oldest member, says he is retiring. (AP file)

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

Stevens says he will step down when the court finishes its work for the summer in late June or early July.

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

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.

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.

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.

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