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Friday morning docket: Tale of two SCOTUS retirements?

Speculation over whether the U.S. Supreme Court will start its next term with or without Justice John Paul Stevens has been swirling ever since it was reported that he hired only one clerk for next term instead of the usual four. Now, ABC News is reporting that the Obama administration is preparing for not one, but two possible vacancies on the nation’s highest court.

White House officials are reportedly also preparing for the possible departure of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76, who last year had her second cancer surgery since taking her seat on the High Court. Despite not missing a single day of oral arguments during treatment for pancreatic cancer, speculation about Ginsburg’s health has continued, spurred by a pair of recent hospitalizations and reports that she dozed off during the State of the Union address last week.

Stevens, 89, less than a year shy of overtaking Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes record to become the oldest justice to serve on the Court, has – like Ginsburg – remained vocal and sharp during oral arguments. But CBS News’ Jan Crawford recently reported that the justice seemed to stumble on his words while summarizing his dissent in the controversial case Citizens United v. FEC from the bench last month, causing more speculation about his future on the Court.

Sources close to Ginsburg threw water on the idea of the justice stepping down, pointing out, among other things, her active participation during oral arguments.

Obama’s short list of potential nominees include Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 7th Circuit Judge Diane Wood, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and Leah Ward Sears, former chief of the Georgia Supreme Court, ABC reports.

Meanwhile, while the city braces for yet another winter snowstorm, here is a wrap of the other legal news:

Some boosts in the budget: Despite President Barack Obama’s call for a freeze in discretionary spending, his fiscal 2011 budget calls for a boost in spending for a number of federal agencies and programs that, if adopted by Congress, will have an impact on the work of the nation’s attorneys. (Lawyers USA) (Sub req’d)

Defending the handgun ban: A D.C.-based attorney will argue the Chicago Second Amendment case before the Supreme Court, urging the justices to uphold the city’s strict gun ban. (The National Law Journal) (Sub req’d)

Black history and SCOTUS: In honor of Black History Month, SCOTUSblog is running a series of essays examining race and the Supreme Court. (SCOTUSblog)

Toyota in hot seat: Members of Congress are demanding more answers from Toyota officials concerning problems in 5.6 million of its vehicles which spurred a massive recall operation.(Detroit Free Press)

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