Less than two weeks ago, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens made news in a typically elliptical court way. He announced that he had hired only one -- as opposed to the full complement of four -- clerks for next year. Reporters and bloggers (not always the same thing) speculated that Stevens, who is approaching 90 years old and who has been on the court since 1975, will retire at the end of the court's spring term. But let me replace the speculation with something a little firmer. Though there are no sure things in life or judging, Stevens' legion of former clerks are convinced that he will in fact retire late next spring. Stevens is known as particularly punctual and exacting about lining up new clerks early in the year. The fact that he did not do so is a certain indiction that he will step down, one of his former clerks told me this week. "There is NO WAY he would go into next year without the full group," said this clerk, who spoke on background out of respect for court tradition and the behind-the-scenes role of clerks. Another former clerk, speaking on the same condition, agreed. "He's still vigorous and I think he wants to leave the court that way," this clerk told me.