HR Management & Compliance

Stevens’ Departure Won’t Change High Court’s Approach to Workplace Issues

by By J. Robert Brame, McGuireWoods, LLP

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has announced he will retire at the end of the current Court session in June or July. Stevens, who turns 90 on April 20 and is the longest-serving member of the current Court, had hinted that a decision on retirement might come soon.

Stevens timed his departure to give President Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate time to nominate and confirm a successor before the Court’s new term starts in October. But the appointment won’t significantly change the Court’s approach to labor and employment issues. Stevens, an antitrust lawyer before his appointment to the conservative Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1975 by President Gerald Ford, a Republican. But he has consistently voted with the liberal bloc on social and employment issues. His replacement is unlikely to change the existing balance on the Court, although there might be slight difference in tone, depending on who it is.

In addition, Stevens has been a leader of the liberal wing on the Court and, as senior justice, was often responsible for assigning majority opinions when the chief justice was in the minority. All in all, however, the Court will remain divided 5-4 on most employment and social issues, with a majority led by Chief Justice John Roberts issuing fairly narrow decisions.