John Paul Stevens, the senior justice on the Supreme Court and the bench's liberal lion, says he gave serious thought to retiring—in the late 1980s, when he was 65 years old. Instead, while younger colleagues have packed their bags, Stevens has become the court's master tactician, cobbling together narrow majorities for decisions on civil rights, the death penalty, and Guantanamo Bay. Now approaching 90, Stevens suggests to USA Today that he's ready to leave: "That can't be news. I'm not exactly a kid."
Stevens has hired fewer clerks for this year's session, and although he stops short of telling the paper he's retiring he speaks about his career with a tone of farewell. The bowtie-sporting justice says the court has changed "dramatically" since President Ford appointed him; with the exception of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "every new appointee has been more conservative than his or her predecessor." Stevens is highly impressed by Sonia Sotomayor but, then again, he compliments all his colleagues: "Sometimes I'm disappointed in the decisions they reach, but I respect every one of them."