For all the speculation about how President-elect Barack Obama’s nominees may change the Supreme Court, he can’t make an appointment until there is a vacancy. The Washington Post says Justice John Paul Stevens, at 88 the court’s longest-serving member, is considered most likely to provide that opening. But in an event this week at the University of Florida, Stevens gave no indication that he is ready to retire to his part-time home in Fort Lauderdale. Reminded that the court now takes and issues full opinions in half as many cases as when Stevens was appointed to the court in 1975, he said he does not consider the workload a burden. “It’s still a full-time job; I wouldn’t want to say otherwise. But if we had the same kind of workload today that we had then, I would have resigned 10 years ago.”
Predicting an opening on the Supreme Court may be one of the most difficult tasks in politics. It is almost completely up to the justice when to give up his or her lifetime appointment. And while the members of the Supreme Court may read the election results, there is no evidence it affects when justices decide to retire. The three most often mentioned — Stevens, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 75, and Justice David H. Souter, 69 — are part of the four-member bloc that most consistently votes liberal. Logic would have it that they would want their replacements to be like-minded. But Ginsburg has made clear lately that she should not be thought of as having one foot out the door, and Souter rarely gives interviews or speeches that would reveal his intentions. Stevens is the second-oldest justice in the court’s history, behind Oliver Wendell Holmes, who retired at 90. Stevens has about four years to go before he would become the longest-serving justice.