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Timeline to confirm Stevens’ successor

Now that Justice John Paul Stevens has officially announced his retirement, we thought it may be useful to review the timetable surrounding last year’s retirement announcement by Justice David Souter and the nomination and confirmation of his successor, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Souter’s retirement plans leaked to the public on April 30, 2009.  Twenty-six days later, on May 26, 2009, President Obama nominated then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill Souter’s seat on the bench.

Sotomayor’s Senate confirmation hearings began on July 13, 2009, forty-eight days later.  The Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination fifteen days after that, on July 28, 2009.  Nine days later, she was confirmed by the full Senate by a vote of 68-31.

The Senate calendar will likely also play a role in the schedule to nominate and confirm a Stevens successor.  The Senate is currently scheduled to leave town after the Fourth of July weekend for a “state work period” (Senate-speak for “we’re not going to be in our offices in Washington, but don’t get any ideas that we’re on vacation”) that ends on July 11.  Another, longer “state work period” is scheduled for August 9 through September 12, leaving the period between July 12 and August 6 open for possible confirmation hearings and a vote before the Senate recess.  As a practical matter, the White House would not want to wait any longer than that, as Justice Stevens has indicated that his retirement will become effective when the Court recesses for the summer; waiting until the Senate returned in mid-September would make it difficult for his replacement to get up to speed in time for the Court’s summer conference in late September and oral arguments on the first Monday in October.