U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has hired only one clerk for the term starting in October 2010, instead of the usual four, fueling speculation that he may be planning to step down next summer, the New York Times reports.

Stevens, 89, is the current court’s longest-serving member. Nominated by Republican President Gerald Ford, Stestevensvens joined the high court in December 1975 and went on to become the leader of its liberal wing.

If  the Chicago-born Stevens steps down, President Barack Obama would have his second opportunity to nominate a justice to the court.

Or maybe Stevens is keeping his options open and planning to hire more clerks later, the New York Times article said. But the newspaper notes that hiring decisions may be an early warning system for hints about the justices’ retirement plans.

It points out that Justice David Souter hired no clerks this spring, in what turned out to be an accurate signal of his decision to step down.