Bench Memos

Jeffrey Toobin on Justice Stevens and Retirement

In the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin has an interesting profile of Justice John Paul Stevens.  The profile is largely celebratory, but it does include a handful of comments from critics, myself included.

I gather that Stevens’s comments on the topic of his possible retirement are getting a lot of attention.  Here’s what Toobin writes:

I asked Stevens about his plans.

“Well, I still have my options open,” he said. “When I decided to just hire one clerk, three of my four clerks last year said they’d work for me next year if I wanted them to. So I have my options still. And then I’ll have to decide soon.” On March 8th, he told me that he would make up his mind in about a month.

I don’t see anything significant in Stevens’s comments.  On the assumption that Stevens wasn’t going to use the occasion of his interview with Toobin to reveal his retirement plans, it’s hardly surprising that Stevens gave an answer along the lines he did.  (Even then, he could have come up with better camouflage than the assertion that three of his clerks from “last year”—the term that ended in the summer of 2009—were ready to interrupt their careers to return to clerk for him again next year.)*

I continue to believe that Stevens intends to resign (probably at the end of April), subject only to a change in circumstances (e.g., the resignation of another justice) that would cause him to reconsider.

* A reader has persuaded me that I may have misunderstood what Stevens meant by “last year,” so I’ve stricken the parenthetical point.