NATION IN BRIEF: Battle ahead for Stevens' court replacement

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

WASHINGTON -- The retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court's leading liberal, touched off an immediate election-year political battle Friday over President Barack Obama's second high court pick. Republicans promised trouble for any activist nominee.

Obama said he would quickly name a successor in the mold of Stevens, who he said was a voice for ordinary people rather than powerful interests.

Eleven days before his 90th birthday, Stevens said he would step down when the court finishes its work for the summer in hopes that a replacement could be confirmed well before the next term begins in October.

Astronauts take 1st spacewalk of shuttle mission

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A pair of spacewalking astronauts disconnected an old empty ammonia tank outside the International Space Station on Friday and got a new one ready to put in its place.

In the first of three spacewalks needed to complete the job, Clayton Anderson had no problem taking apart the ammonia lines on the old tank. But he needed a pry bar to remove the new tank out of space shuttle Discovery's payload bay. The tank got hung up on a bolt.

''Go nice and easy, Clay,'' spacewalking partner Rick Mastracchio warned as Anderson pushed and prodded with the pry bar. After several tries, the tank finally came free. ''We got it!'' Anderson called out.

Mourning begins as W. Va. mine search resumes

MONTCOAL, W.Va. -- Grieving relatives began burying victims of the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster Friday as rescue crews ventured back into the blast-damaged shaft for another agonizingly slow, dangerous and probably hopeless search for survivors.

It was their fourth attempt to find the four miners missing since Monday's explosion killed 25 others in the nation's worst underground disaster since at least 1984. During the previous rescue attempts, searchers were forced to withdraw by dangerous gases and the risk of fire or explosion.

''We are praying for a miracle,'' President Barack Obama said in Washington.

Rescuers acknowledged that was what it would take for the miners to have made it to a refuge chamber stocked with food, water and enough oxygen for several days.

Fort Hood suspect to be isolated in Texas jail

BELTON, Texas -- The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly shooting spree at Fort Hood will be kept isolated from all other inmates at the jail where he was transferred early Friday, the local sheriff said.

Maj. Nidal Hasan was airlifted from a San Antonio military hospital to the Bell County Jail in Belton at about 4 a.m. Friday. He had been at the military hospital since shortly after the Nov. 5 shooting spree that left him paralyzed.

Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.

Majority of GOP party chairs back Steele

NEW ORLEANS -- Embattled GOP Chairman Michael Steele got a much-needed boost Friday from a majority of state party chiefs ahead of his speech today to activists, his first public appearance since a spending scandal hit the Republican National Committee.

''We stand behind Chairman Steele as he continues to lead us on the path victory in November,'' said a letter of support signed by 31 of Steele's state counterparts.

A lack of unanimity, however, reflected worries in the party about Steele's management of the 168-member RNC.

NH drops effort to get teen to pay $25K for rescue

CONCORD, N.H. -- A Massachusetts teenager who spent three nights alone on the Northeast's highest mountain no longer owes the state of New Hampshire more than $25,000 for the cost of his rescue.

Officials with the state Fish and Game Department and attorney general's office said Friday they have decided not to pursue the fine they imposed on Scott Mason, of Halifax, Mass., after his rescue from Mount Washington in April 2009.