Justice John Paul Stevens announces retirement

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama has saluted retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens as an "impartial guardian" of the law, and says he'll move quickly to nominate a successor.

Obama paid tribute to Stevens shortly after the president returned from Prague where he signed a new nuclear arms limitation treaty with Russia.

Obama said Stevens was a "brilliant" jurist and he hailed his appointment by former President Gerald Ford in the months after the Watergate scandal. The president said Stevens had "worn the judicial robe with honor and humility." Stevens' decision to step down from the high court bench gives Obama his second Supreme Court appointment.

Chief Justice John Roberts also praise for his colleague.

"Associate Justice John Paul Stevens has earned the gratitude and admiration of the American people for his nearly 40 years of distinguished service to the Judiciary, including more than 34 years on the Supreme Court," Roberts said. "He has enriched the lives of everyone at the Court through his intellect, independence, and warm grace. We have all been blessed to have John as our colleague and his wife Maryan as our friend. We will miss John's presence in our daily work, but will take joy in his and Maryan's continued friendship in the years ahead."

Justice Stevens, the liberal leader of the court, won't tilt power away from the court's more conservative justices with his retirement. The status quo is almost assured.

President Obama has promised to nominate someone who thinks along the same lines as Stevens, and though the president can expect a congressional fight from Republicans on any choice, his party controls both houses of Congress.

"I hope I will be able to support the individual selected by the president, as I have a majority of his judicial nominees," said Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, "But, as I have said before, I cannot and will not vote for a nominee with a record that fails to demonstrate a commitment to the Constitution, the rule of law, and the oath of a judge.

Sessions invoked now Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayor's nomination as concern for the upcoming battle to name a new justice.

"We know from the nomination of Justice Sotomayor last spring that the public is rightly concerned about the future of our judiciary. The product of her confirmation hearing was a near-universal rejection of President Obama's empathy standard, the flawed notion that judges should allow personal feelings, political opinions, and social views to guide judicial decision-making. Senators on both sides of the aisle—and the nominee herself—disavowed the president's standard because it lies contrary to the traditional role of a judge in our legal system. Such an approach opens the door to an anti-democratic abuse of power where unaccountable federal judges set national policy according to their own views and political agendas. That approach is deeply unpopular with the American people, and any nominee who subscribes to it should expect bipartisan opposition.

Justice Stevens will retire from the bench at the age of 89.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. WSFA 12 News contributed to this report. All rights reserved.