I’ll Take The Dissenter Over The Decider Any Day

September 24th, 2007at 11:54am Posted by Eli

The NYT Sunday Magazine has a fascinating profile of 87-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens. Among other things, we learn that:

  • He considers himself a conservative.
  • He speaks in italics. Like, a lot.
  • The major elements of his judicial philosophy have all been shaped by important events and cases in his pre-Supreme Court life.
  • He has absolutely no desire to retire, thank God.

And then there’s this:

Stevens’s work on the Commission of 1969 brought him to the attention of Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, a moderate Republican who had decided to promote merit appointments to the federal bench instead of political cronies or ideologues. On Percy’s recommendation, President Nixon appointed Stevens to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago in 1970. And five years later, when President Ford was looking for a replacement for Justice William O. Douglas, a liberal icon, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, he, too, decided to emphasize merit and competence over ideology or cronyism. Rejecting the advice of Barry Goldwater, who urged him to appoint the archconservative Robert Bork, and of his wife, Betty, who urged him to choose a woman, Ford chose Stevens as “the finest legal mind I could find.” The Senate enthusiastically agreed, by a vote of 98 to 0.

As a sign of how significantly the Republican Party has changed since 1975, President Ford, until the end of his life, embraced Stevens’s jurisprudence even as a younger generation of Republicans was denouncing it. In a warm tribute to Stevens in 2005, Ford wrote, “I endorse his constitutional views on the secular character of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, on securing procedural safeguards in criminal cases and on the constitution’s broad grant of regulatory authority to Congress.” I asked Stevens what he thought of Ford’s letter. “It was amazing to see that,” Stevens said, grinning like a proud schoolboy. “I was delighted, as I’m sure you understand.”

*wistful sigh*

Oh, for the good old days.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Judiciary


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