Supreme Court Begins New Term After Unusual Start

Last week Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was treated in February for early stage pancreatic cancer, fell faint in her chambers and was later admitted for a night of observation at the Washington Hospital Center. Ginsburg, 76, who has said she plans to remain on the court for many years, returned to work the next day. A court spokeswoman released a statement saying that Ginsburg had received a clean bill of health last July except for an iron deficiency that caused the fainting spell.

Retirement speculation has also swirled around Justice John Paul Stevens who, at 89, is the oldest member of the high court. This December he will have served on the court for 34 years. Earlier this month, Stevens confirmed to the AP that he had only hired one clerk for the 2010 term instead of the usual complement of four. Justices who retire are allowed one clerk.

Former clerks for Stevens said that he usually hired his clerks "like clockwork," and that although he could presumably snap up talented clerks at a later date, the way he handled his hiring this time signaled he might step down at the end of this term. Were he to step down this year, Stevens would be slightly shy of breaking two major records on the court: the oldest-serving justice (Oliver Wendell Holmes retired at 90) and the longest-serving justice (William O. Douglas served for 36 years).

Former clerks said that Stevens is not the type to care about breaking records, however. The justice has given his blessing to a clerk reunion in May, and some believe it may be his last such reunion.

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