Post-Stevens Supreme Court Comes Into Sharper Focus

Departure of senior liberal justice will shift the balance of power
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2010 5:15 PM CDT
In this Sept. 29, 2009 file photo, the Supreme Court poses for a portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington.   (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak. FILE)
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(Newser) – John Paul Stevens will probably retire from the Supreme Court this summer, leaving an opening for President Obama to fill. In the broadest sense, Obama's pick will change little: The president will probably choose a justice who will side with the court's liberals. But the new face will not be a replacement for Stevens, who has been the senior liberal justice for 16 years and is a master of using his opinion-assignment authority to influence outcomes.

If the chief justice does not side with the majority, the senior justice in the majority decides who will write the opinion. Steven's retirement will have a "potentially huge impact because Stevens has used that opinion assignment authority with striking effectiveness," a law professor tells the Los Angeles Times. Obama's appointee will be junior, so that authority will pass to Anthony Kennedy.

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