The timing of the news is a surprise: Stevens, 89, was expected to wait until after the Supreme Court's oral arguments conclude this month. He will leave when the court's term ends in June or July.
By James Oliphant
April 9, 2010 | 8:09 a.m.
Reporting from Washington
Justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican-appointed justice who emerged as a leader of the Supreme Court's liberal wing over his 34-year tenure, announced his retirement Friday.
Stevens sent a letter to President Obama on Friday, which read: "Having concluded that it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court's next term, I shall retire from active service."
The announcement was not a surprise, but the timing was. Stevens, 89, was widely expected to wait until after the high court's oral arguments concluded at the end of the month. He will step down when the court's term ends in June or July.
The White House has been preparing to fill Stevens' vacancy for months and, according to reports, appears to be focused on three candidates: Washington, D.C.-based federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, 57; Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49; and Chicago federal appeals court Judge Diane Wood, 59.
The president may have to tread more cautiously with this nomination than he did last summer, when he chose federal appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the court, because Republicans, with 41 votes in the Senate, now have the power to filibuster a controversial choice.