Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the court's oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, is retiring. President Barack Obama now has his second high court opening to fill.
Stevens said Friday he will step down when the court finishes its work for the summer in late June or early July. He said he hopes his successor is confirmed "well in advance of the commencement of the court's next term."
Stevens' announcement leaves ample time for the White House to settle on a successor and for Senate Democrats, who control a 59-vote majority, to hold confirmation hearings and a vote before the court's next term begins in October. Republicans have not ruled out attempts to delay confirmation.
Stevens' announcement had been hinted at for months. It comes 11 days before his 90th birthday.
Throughout his tenure, which began after President Gerald Ford nominated him in 1975, Stevens usually sided with the court's liberal bloc in the most contentious cases - those involving abortion, criminal law, civil rights and church-state relations. He led the dissenters as well in the case of Bush v. Gore that sealed President George W. Bush's election in 2000.