Justice John Paul Stevens Says He’ll Retire Within Three Years
In a New Yorker interview with Jeffrey Toobin, the most liberal member of the Supreme Court says that when he first was nominated to the court he viewed himself as a Republican. He doesn’t say whether he still regards himself that way (h/t Think Progress)
Stevens is an unlikely liberal icon. When he was appointed, he told me recently, he thought of himself as a Republican and always had—“ever since my father voted for Coolidge and Harding.” He declined to say whether he still does.
While the country, and the court, has moved demonstrably to the right, Stevens’s own views have shifted leftward.
Writing on affirmative action, in 1980, he noted, “If the National Government is to make a serious effort to define racial classes by criteria that can be administered objectively, it must study precedents such as the First Regulation to the Reich’s Citizenship Law of November 14, 1935”; yet in 2003 he engineered the preservation of racial preferences in admissions in a case involving the University of Michigan Law School. In 1976, he joined his colleagues in ending a moratorium on the death penalty; in 2008, he wrote that executions are “patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment.” Stevens has always supported abortion rights and an expansive notion of freedom of speech.
The rightward lurch of the court is quite evident to Stevens.
But, especially since Roberts took over as Chief Justice, Stevens has found himself confronting colleagues who have a very different approach—an aggressive, line-drawing conservatism that appears bent on remaking great swaths of Supreme Court precedent.
Stevens acquitted himself most beautifully during the Bush years as the leading voice against attempted Constitutional abuse by the administration.
After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration conducted its war on terror with almost no formal resistance from other parts of the government, until Stevens’s opinions. He was among the first voices, and certainly the most important one, to announce, as he wrote in Hamdan, that “the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law.”
Although appointed by Gerald Ford, it seemed clear that Stevens didn’t want to retire on the watch of George W. Bush.
As for Obama, Stevens said, “I have a great admiration for him, and certainly think he’s capable of picking successfully, you know, doing a good job of filling vacancies.” He added, “You can say I will retire within the next three years. I’m sure of that.”Click here for reuse options!
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