Justice Stevens’ retirement from the Supreme Court creates a potential game-changer for the midterm elections. If Republicans respond correctly to this, they can recapture the House, make big gains in the Senate, and bring most of the Tea Party crowd back into the GOP fold.
On April 9, Justice John Paul Stevens announced that he will retire from the Supreme Court this summer. This move has been anticipated since late 2009, when Stevens didn’t hire his full allotment of law clerks for the Court’s next term. But making the announcement now completely changes the national dialogue, with widespread implications.
Many justices announce their retirement from the Supreme Court around the last day of the Court’s term. (Supreme Court terms begin on the first Monday of October, and end in the last week or so of June.) Many legal analysts (including me) expected Justice Stevens’ announcement in late June.
By announcing in April his intent to retire, Justice Stevens has completely changed the White House’s prospects for the year. The president was shifting focus to taking over the banking industry, then was going to move on several other liberal priorities, including granting amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants.
Justice Stevens changed that with his announcement. The Supreme Court is a coequal branch of government, every bit as powerful as the president or Congress. Given that the Court only has nine justices, changing one of them is a major shift in national power.
This is highlighted by the big issues the Court is deciding this term. The Court has already decided a major free-speech case in Citizens United, and we will shortly receive the Court’s decisions in the Mojave cross case, whether the feds can permanently detain “dangerous” people who have completed their prison time, whether they can convict people for not providing “honest services” (a dangerously vague term), whether state universities can expel Christian clubs for requiring club officers to adhere to the group’s beliefs, and whether people can sign petitions to protect traditional marriage without their addresses being posted on the Internet to intimidate them.
Of all these issues, none is bigger than gun rights. This June the Court will decide McDonald v. Chicago, asking whether the Second Amendment extends the right to keep and bear arms against state and local gun-control laws. That case—in which the National Rifle Association is a party—will come down right before Justice Stevens retires.