Discuss as:

Souter to retire? Maybe, maybe not

From NBC's Pete Williams
The AP is running a story this afternoon that raises the question of whether Supreme Court Justice David Souter might retire.

Answer: He might. Then again, he might not.

Here's the background: Souter is usually the last of the justices to hire law clerks for the coming term. He typically gets around to it in March or April -- well after the other justices have chosen theirs. But this year, Souter hasn't done it yet, and that has been the subject of gossip in legal circles.

Those familiar with Souter's practices say he asked around for names of potential candidates for clerks earlier this year, a sign he was thinking of staying on the court.  But it's not clear yet that he has actually interviewed them, which might be a sign that he's considering retirement. It might be that he's just late in attending to clerk duty this year. Souter's chambers are saying nothing, not even giving winks or nods for guidance.

Clerk-ology is an undependable indicator of a pending retirement. Some justices have decided to retire even after hiring clerks, who then go on to work for the retired justice.

If anyone were to retire this term, Souter has long been thought to be the likely one. John Paul Stevens, at 89, is the court's oldest. But he is, in the view of many, at the top of his game, a master court strategist at assembling votes. Next oldest, at 76, is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But anyone who thinks she might retire wasn't watching when she made her triumphant return during President Obama's speech to Congress. 

Souter, at 69, is a comparative youngster, the 5th oldest on the court.