Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Justice Souter to Retire

CNN is reporting that Justice David Souter will retire from the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of the court’s term in June, presenting President Obama with his first opportunity to fill a vacancy on the high court.

This is a bit of a surprise, though not entirely. Souter is not one of the older justices on the court, but he quite famously dislikes living in Washington DC and those close to him have long said that he wishes to return to his beloved New Hampshire. Still, most observers assumed that the first vacancy would be from the retirement of either John Paul Stevens, the oldest member of the court at 88 years old, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second oldest at 76 who has been battling pancreatic cancer.

In February, when Ginsburg was diagnosed with that dreaded disease, I speculated about possible appointments to replace her. It was a mortal lock then that she would be replaced by a female justice, but I don’t think Souter’s retirement changes that analysis. I still think the first appointment will be a woman and will likely be one of three choices: current Solicitor General Elena Kagan; appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor; and Leah Ward Sears, Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

The $64,000 question at this point is this: Will there be two vacancies on the court this summer? Or even three? That would make for a long, hot summer in Washington DC.