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When Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement on April 9, the news was accompanied by the inevitable counting of votes on the U.S. Supreme Court. The conventional wisdom is that Stevens’ retirement means the departure of the most senior liberal justice from the Court and that Stevens’ successor will not substantially change the political orientation of the conservative Court currently led by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.

It is understandable that the politics of Stevens’ retirement would take priority in news stories. The Court’s decisions often have political implications and with certain matters — including campaign finance, the treatment of military detainees and even, in Bush v. Gore, the election of the president — the Court’s decisions often resolve controversial political disputes.

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