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President Obama Recognizes Justice Stevens' Lifetime of Service and Offers Condolences to Families in West Virginia

President Obama comments on the retirement of Justice Stevens and offers his condolences to the families of workers in West Virginia.

This afternoon, President Obama commented on the news of Justice John Paul Stevens' retirement before he addressed  the recent tragedy in West Virginia. The President recognized Justice Stevens as an "impartial guardian of the law" who served his tenure with "honor and humility." Stating that he views the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee as one of his “most serious responsibilities as President,” he expressed his hopes that the Senate will “move quickly in the coming weeks” to confirm the nominee to be seated in time for the fall term.

As Justice Stevens expressed to me in the letter announcing his retirement, it is in the best interests of the Supreme Court to have a successor appointed and confirmed before the next term begins.  And so I will move quickly to name a nominee, as I did with Justice Sotomayor.

Once again, I view the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee as among my most serious responsibilities as President.  And while we cannot replace Justice Stevens’ experience or wisdom, I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities -- an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.  It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.  Much like they did with Justice Sotomayor, I hope the Senate will move quickly in the coming weeks to debate and then confirm my nominee so that the new Justice is seated in time for the fall term.

The President then offered his condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives in the mine devastation, acknowledging the dangers that workers in mines and their families face every day.

Because mining is a tradition that’s often passed down through generations, it’s not uncommon to see an entire family choose this line of work.  And sadly, when a tragedy like this occurs, it’s also not uncommon to lose almost an entire family all at once.

I spoke to some surviving members of one such family on Wednesday.  This week, Tim Davis, and two of his nephews, Josh, age 25, and Cory, age 20, were killed in the explosion in the Upper Big Branch mine.

Rescuers have reported that Tim and his two nephews were all found together.  Two other members of their families that worked in the mine were able to escape unharmed.

Before he left for the mine on Monday, Josh wrote a letter for his girlfriend and young daughter.  And in it, he said, “If anything happens to me, I’ll be looking down from heaven at you all.  I love you.  Take care of my baby.  Tell her that daddy loves her, she’s beautiful, she’s funny.  Just take care of my baby girl.”

Reflecting on that letter, and the losses she endured in just one week, Josh’s mother Pam simply said, “It is just West Virginia.  When something bad happens, we come together.”  When something bad happens, we come together.

Through tragedy and heartache, that’s the spirit that has sustained this community, and this country, for over 200 years.  And as we pray for the souls of those we’ve lost, and the safe return of those who are missing, we are also sustained by the words of the Psalm that are particularly poignant right now.  Those words read:  “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.”  Thank you very much.