Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, 11 days shy of his 90th birthday, announced his retirement this morning, giving President Obama his second opportunity to name someone to the court.
The announcement is not a surprise; Stevens has been hinting at this for months now, and his decision to hire just one law clerk this term — instead of the usual four — was seen as an indication of his intentions.
By all accounts, the short list of potential successors are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who is 49, and federal appellate judges Merrick Garland (57) and Diane Wood (59). Kagan and Wood were runners-up last year to Sonia Sotomayor, named by Obama to replace the retiring David Souter.
Wood is seen as more liberal than Garland; Kagan's political leanings have not been determined. Stevens is a leader of the court's liberal wing.
And, as NPR's Nina Totenberg reported Thursday on Morning Edition, Stevens is the last remaining Protestant on the court, now dominated by six Catholics. Both Kagan and Garland are Jewish; Wood is Protestant.