) -- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the highest court's most senior member, will retire when the court finishes its current session in late June or early July.
It has been expected for some time that Stevens would retire during President Obama's first term, to ensure his replacement by a politically liberal justice.
Stevens has himself stated as much, and the fact that Stevens only hired one clerk in the last round of Supreme Court hiring triggered speculation from legal hawks that Stevens would retire sooner rather than later.
Stevens also gave lengthy interviews for profile pieces in publications including
The New Yorker
in recent weeks, fueling further rumors.
Stevens said on Friday he hoped his replacement would be confirmed well in advance of the court's next term.
The leading candidates to replace Stevens are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49, and federal appellate judges Merrick Garland, 57, and Diane Wood, 59.
Both Kagan and Wood were interviewed for the Supreme Court post that ultimately went to Sonia Sotomayor.
Stevens will turn 90 in 11 days.
The overall balance of the court will not be changed as a result of a liberal replacement for Stevens, but it will likely be difficult for a rookie justice to match Stevens' power with fellow justices.
Stevens has been known for using his intellectual clout to sway justices of all political stripes on close court decisions. He has also written some of the most blistering dissenting attacks on conservative decisions taken by the court.
-Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.
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