Yesterday, I mentioned again the prospect that Justice Stevens will retire at the end of this term. Stevens will turn 90 this year and he has only hired one law clerk for next term, not the four that sitting justices typically hire every year. I added, however, that his 90-page dissent in the Citizens United case Stevens suggests that he “seems to be as vigorous as ever.”
But Jan Crawford, who has the advantage of having heard Justice Stevens read a summary of his dissent yesterday, offers a different take:
Stevens spent a good 20 minutes this morning reading a summary of his scathing dissent in the campaign finance case. And he showed his age.
The language in his written dissent was forceful. But it was striking to see him appear to stumble over words as he read it, to mispronounce words like “corruption” and “allegation,” to seem to lose his place in his summary, to often hit the microphone with his hand or his papers.
Maybe it was just a bad day, and Lord knows we’ve all had those. And certainly it was the longest summary from the bench in some time. But it was so different from the John Paul Stevens we’ve come to know. He’s the maverick justice who asks pointed questions from the bench and cleverly makes his points, sometimes with sly dry humor.
Today, he was different, and almost felt like relief when he finally got through his summary.
It would be greatly advantageous to President Obama for Justice Stevens to resign this year. Currently, the Dems hold 59 Senate seats; there is a good chance that this number will be substantially reduced in 2011.
This is not to say that Obama is unconstrained in 2010. It’s an election year, which means that the Senate won’t be in session as much and that some Democratic Senators may be reluctant to vote for a nominee who comes across as too liberal. If Obama nominates such a person, his best hope might be to confirm him or her during a lame duck session in which the likes of Blanche Lincoln can vote “yes” as their last act in the Senate.