WASHINGTON – Each spring brings whispered theories, educated guesses and, sometimes, rank speculation about whether one or more of the nine Supreme Court (search) justices will call it quits.
This year there's barely a peep.
No one, the thinking goes, wants to step down in a presidential election year because any nominee chosen as a replacement would probably become a political punching bag. History shows the Senate has a poor record of confirming election-year nominees, meaning the Supreme Court would be short-handed.
"Other than for health reasons it seems inconceivable that anyone would retire because it would mean the court would effectively remain frozen until after the presidential election," said Washington lawyer Thomas Goldstein, a Supreme Court specialist.
Lawyers, law professors, politicians, lobbyists and others all keep a close eye on the high court, whose membership has remained the same for a remarkable, record-breaking nine years and counting.
Justices serve for life or until they choose to retire. All but one of the justices is past 60, and the oldest, Justice John Paul Stevens (search), turns 84 this month.
Stevens is sometimes mentioned as a candidate for retirement, but recent speculation has focused more intensely on Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist (search) and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (search), both past 70 and both veterans of more than 20 years on the high court.