WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, putting an end to speculation that there would be a second retirement among the justices this year, will be back for another term in October, the court said yesterday.
"The justice intends to be back next term," court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. He has just completed hiring new law clerks for his staff this fall, she added.
Although Mr. Blackmun has been telling close associates for months that he wanted to serve another term beyond the current one, he has said nothing publicly, and that has led to speculation that he would follow Justice Byron R. White into retirement at the close of this term.
Mr. White already had disclosed plans to leave the court when the current term finishes. That is expected to be sometime in middle to late June.
White House officials have been taking part in the speculation about Mr. Blackmun, suggesting that the potential opportunity for two nominations almost simultaneously might make it easier for President Clinton to make court-balancing appointments: a woman for one seat, a man for the other.
Although some White House aides have said that Mr. Clinton wanted to name a replacement for Mr. White, and have Senate action finished by the first of July, the president's apparent failure so far even to begin narrowing his list makes that goal seem unrealistic.
Justice Blackmun, who will be 85 in November, is the court's oldest member. Because he will be next to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist in seniority, Mr. Blackmun, who tends to be a liberal justice, will now get added opportunities to pick more junior justices to write opinions.
The choice of the author of an opinion can often influence the scope of the court's decisions.