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Justice Stevens on the Court and his future

Check out Adam Liptak’s article in today’s New York Times on a recent interview with Justice John Paul Stevens. Liptak writes:

“There are still pros and cons to be considered,” Justice John Paul Stevens said in his Supreme Court chambers on Friday afternoon, reflecting on his reluctance to leave a job he loves after almost 35 years. But his calculus seemed to be weighted toward departure, and he said his decision on the matter would come very soon.

“I do have to fish or cut bait, just for my own personal peace of mind and also in fairness to the process,” he said. “The president and the Senate need plenty of time to fill a vacancy.”

Hints about Justice Stevens’s possible departure started in September, when he confirmed that he had hired only a single law clerk, instead of the usual four, for the term that will start this fall. In occasional public statements since then, Justice Stevens, the leader of the court’s liberal wing, said he had not yet made up his mind. But the White House is bracing for a summertime confirmation battle, the second of the Obama presidency.

Justice Stevens, who will turn 90 this month, said he did not like to give interviews “because it saves an awful lot of time if you don’t.” But he was courtly and candid in reviewing the trajectory of his tenure on the court and in summing up what he had learned about the role of the judge in American life.

I am particular struck by this comment:

“What really for me marks a conservative judge is one who doesn’t decide more than he has to in order to do his own job,” he said, relaxed in shirt sleeves and his signature bow tie in chambers floodlit by April sunshine. “Our job is to decide cases and resolve controversies. It’s not to write broad rules that may answer society’s questions at large.”

Needless to say, the entire piece is worth reading.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.