A report on a Newsweek blog this week sent another tremor through the Supreme Court community about the possibility that Justice John Paul Stevens is planning to retire at the end of the upcoming term. The justice had sent an e-mail to all his former law clerks, the report said, inviting them to a clerk reunion next May. This was taken as an unusual move by the justice and a further sign that this term might be his last on the Court.
Well, the report of such an e-mail was news to several former Stevens law clerks we contacted, who had not received one. Other law clerks did receive an e-mail, but not from Stevens or his chambers. Instead, it was from another former clerk who was apprently in the early stages of spreading the word about a reunion in May.
So yes, it appears there will be a reunion of Stevens law clerks next May. But those we spoke to said this fact has less significance than meets the eye. Unlike some other justices, Stevens' law clerk reunions are not annual; his last one was in 2004. But, says one clerk,"he has a reunion every five years in the spring and we're due this spring. So there's nothing unusual about this." That said, some clerks acknowledged Stevens might have wanted to have a reunion before retiring, if that's what he is planning to do.
The first signal that Stevens might retire next year came with recent news, which Stevens confirmed, that he had hired only one law clerk for the 2010 term. One is the number of clerks a retired justice has, as opposed to the four that sitting justices can hire. But even this news is not proof positive of Stevens' plans, several clerks believe. "If he decided to stay on," said one former Stevens clerk, "he could pick up the phone and hire three excellent clerks in an hour."
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.