U.S. Supreme Court

Stevens Says It's Time to 'Fish or Cut Bait' on the Issue of Retirement


Justice John Paul Stevens has acknowledged it’s time to “fish or cut bait” and says he will decide soon whether he will retire.

The New York Times spoke to Stevens and concluded “his calculus seemed to be weighted toward departure.” In another interview with the Washington Post, Stevens said he will retire this year or next.

Stevens turns 90 this month and is the only current justice who served in World War II. According to the Washington Post, “Stevens was in the stands, as was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when Babe Ruth hit his ‘called shot’ home run in the 1932 World Series. He is the only justice who was around for the start of the Great Depression, or who lived through Prohibition. He cracked Japanese code during World War II.”

He acknowledged in the New York Times interview that arthritis is affecting his tennis game and that his delivery was lacking in January during his oral dissent in a major campaign finance case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. News reports at the time said Stevens “spoke haltingly” and “read hesitantly.”

“I did stumble in my oral statement,” he told the Times. “I had been up early that morning writing that statement out, and I had played tennis that morning. Maybe I was tired, and of course I felt strongly about it, but that has never affected my ability to articulate orally what I wanted to say before. It was a novel experience.”

But Stevens said being a Supreme Court justice is “a wonderful job” and he wouldn’t have stayed on so long if he didn’t enjoy the work.

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

Considered a liberal, Stevens said his views have generally remained the same, but the court has moved rightward. He contends his judicial philosophy is conservative.

“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 told the Times. “Our job is to decide cases and resolve controversies. It’s not to write broad rules that may answer society’s questions at large.”

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