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Justice Stevens isn't thinking retirement

July 20, 2007|From the Associated Press

HONOLULU — John Paul Stevens, at 87 the oldest and longest-serving member of the Supreme Court, signaled Thursday that he doesn't plan to retire from his "very wonderful job" soon.

"I'm blessed by a job where there's no set retirement age. There's no set term limit. I happen to enjoy the job," Stevens told an audience at the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference. "I'm still performing in an acceptable manner."

Stevens didn't expand on his plans.

One of the court's liberals, he has been on the losing end of a string of 5-4 decisions.

"It's a blessing to be active in a job that one really enjoys," Stevens said Thursday to applause from hundreds of lawyers, judges and government employees at the concluding session of the four-day conference at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

Stevens, wearing a white lei over a pink-collared shirt, answered questions from a judge and two lawyers.

Stevens said he remained physically and mentally healthy, playing tennis, golf, bridge and sudoku.

Stevens, who was appointed by President Ford in 1975, said he would have retired much sooner if the court still handled as many cases as it did years ago. The court issued 73 opinions last term and about twice as many 20 years ago.

"The workload was really unbearable at the time," Stevens said. "The decline reflects better judgment in taking cases."

Asked whether he was worried about the increasing number of split decisions between liberal and conservative justices, Stevens said he didn't think it would create any long-term problems.

"I don't think there's a polarization among the justices," Stevens said. "There's strong respect on both sides of the so-called 5-4 division. Although sometimes strong language is used, we do really respect one another."

Despite consistently falling on the court's liberal side, Stevens said he considered himself a judicial conservative and not an activist judge.

"A judicial conservative is one who is careful about not making judicial decisions when they should be made by the elected branches of government," Stevens said.

Stevens is 13 years older than the next-oldest justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was born in 1933.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer also were born in the 1930s; Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. are baby boomers.

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