In honor of justice

Stevens’ departure from the Supreme Court merits reflection.

After 35 years on the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens is retiring, providing President Barack Obama another opportunity to nominate a justice to the high court. Before Washington descends too far into partisan bickering over his legacy, however, it is worth reflecting on StevensâÄô remarkable career. Though originally appointed by a Republican president, Stevens is regarded as perhaps the most liberal member of an increasingly conservative court. Interestingly, this shift may be more indicative of the courtâÄôs changing composition than his own views. Stevens told The New York Times in 2007, âÄúI donâÄôt think of myself as a liberal at all. I think as part of my general politics, IâÄôm pretty darn conservative.âÄù However, grappling with weighty nonpartisan questions in a changing world has rightly caused him to adapt his ideas of justice. For instance, after six months on the court, he joined the majority to reinstate the death penalty. More recently, he suggested that all death sentences were unconstitutional. Throughout his career, Stevens has authored opinions advocating equality before the law. He rebuked President Bill ClintonâÄôs attempt to duck a lawsuit by invoking presidential privilege and helped force President George W. Bush to grant habeus corpus to detainees. Recently, when his colleagues voted shamefully to extend free speech protections to corporate advocacy, he rebuffed the majority with a 90-page admonition. He read the whole thing aloud from the bench. Stevens has been the most senior member of the Court since 1994 and has been a rare master of coalition-building between justices of all political stripes. In all, it is safe to say that few people have shaped the recent course of the nation as profoundly as Justice John Paul Stevens.