Stevens makes it official: He’s leaving high court

Justice John Paul Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who turns 90 this month, announced today he will retire from the high court at the end of June.

In a one-paragraph letter to President Obama today, Stevens said he had concluded that “it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court’s next term.”

The potential impact of the retirement will be measured once President Obama nominates a replacement who is confirmed by the Senate.

But Stevens’ record on gay-related legal issues will be a difficult one for a nominee to measure up to.

For most of his tenure on the court, Stevens was a relative moderate who leaned liberal. When the high court majority voted, in 1986, to uphold state laws prohibiting same-sex sexual relations, in Bowers v. Hardwick, Stevens joined the dissent. But when the court voted one year later to allow the U.S. Olympic Committee to block the organizers of Gay Games from calling their event the Gay Olympics, Stevens voted with the majority.

But by 1991, after the court’s true liberals—William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall—retired, Stevens became the liberal, relative to the increasingly conservative court.

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