Day: April 9, 2010

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens Retires: His Major Impact On The Supreme Court!

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens has announced his retirement after nearly 35 years on the Supreme Court. He leaves as the second oldest Justice at his retirement, only surpassed by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Stevens also will be leaving the Court with the second longest tenure, only surpassed by the person he replaced, Justice William O. Douglas. He is, at the moment, fourth longest serving, but will pass Chief Justice John Marshall in May, and later, Associate Justice Stephen J. Field in June.

Stevens was appointed by President Gerald Ford, in his only opportunity to select a Supreme Court Justice, and it still stands out as the most lasting contribution that Ford made to the history of the country during his two years and five months as President!

Stevens turned out, as often is the case, to be more liberal than anyone, including Ford, could ever have imagined, and yet, Ford did not, unlike Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and George H. W. Bush, criticize his Court appointment in public for having turned toward the liberal side of constitutional law. Eisenhower criticized Chief Justice Earl Warren; Nixon criticized Harry Blackmun; and Bush was critical of David Souter.

This fact adds to the growing image of Gerald Ford as a moderate Republican who deserves more credit than he usually gains from historical scholars, as Stevens has had a dramatic impact in so many areas and will be missed!

Stevens led on such issues as gay rights, abortion, affirmative action and limitations on Bush administration policy toward prisoners held as terrorists at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

He was also a major critic of Bush v. Gore as wrongheaded intervention in a state’s count of presidential election votes, and he condemned the Citizens United case that now allows corporations unlimited rights to spend money on political campaigns, on the basis that corporations are “persons” protected under the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Stevens is a very fine person as an individual, highly respected, even by his conservative Court colleagues who disagree with his view of constitutional law. He is a true example of the finest who have been privileged to serve on the Supreme Court, and he will be seen as one of the very best, the top 25, who have served on the Court in its 221 year history!