Home / John Paul Stevens /

John Paul Stevens

Stevens wants four more words

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens wants four words added to the Constitution – a move he said would better allow the federal government to respond in times of crisis.

The addition of “and other public officials” to the Supremacy Clause of Article VI, Stevens recently said during a Chicago Bar Association talk, would give the federal government the authority to use state officials to carry out national policies, the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog reports.

The federal government needs that power to better protect the public from threats and terrorism, Stevens said. “[I]t would be prudent to adopt the amendment that I have proposed before the next time-bomb explodes.”

More Supreme Court news from Lawyers USA’s Supreme Court report.

Stevens presses lawmakers on gun control issue

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, citing the rise of mass shootings such as the July incident in a Colorado movie theater, urged congress to act on gun control measures.

“The fact that Congress doesn’t address it is, I think, mind-boggling,” Stevens told attendees of a Washington luncheon yesterday, Reuters reports. Stevens also said he’d like to see both presidential candidates address the issue of gun control.

Stevens, in his dissent  from Justice Antonin G. Scalia’s majority opinion in Second Amendment case DC v. Heller in 2008, wrote that the constitutional right to “keep and bear arms” was created to protect citizens ability to form a militia, not to confer a individual right to gun ownership, as the Court’s majority held.

For more Supreme Court news from Lawyers USA, see our Supreme Court Report. Our sister company Federal News Service has the full transcript of Stevens’ comments here (sub. req-d).


Stevens: Court may regret Citizens United ruling

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens said his former colleagues may be ruing the day the Citizens United v. FEC decision was handed down.

In a speech last night at the University of Arkansas, Stevens said the Supreme Court will soon have to decide whether the decision, which held that the right of corporations, unions and other groups to make unlimited super PAC contributions in election campaigns is protected by the First Amendment, also applies to foreign groups including terrorist organizations.

Stevens said based on the words “not true” famously uttered by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. in response to President Barack Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United decision at the 2010 State of the Union address, “there will not be five votes” to extend Citizens United to foreign entities.

“The court must then explain its abandonment of, or at least qualify reliance upon, the proposition that the identity of the speaker is an impermissible basis for regulating campaign speech,” Stevens said, according to CNN’s Bill Mears. “It will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection for some nonvoters than that of other nonvoters.

Happy birthday, Justice Stevens

As the justices of the Supreme Court gather to conference this morning, perhaps they will take a moment to wish their former colleague a happy birthday.

Today retired Justice John Paul Stevens turns 92.

By the way, he is still not the longest-living justice. That honor goes to Justice Stanley Forman Reed, who lived to age 95.

Study: SCOTUS is a melting pot of ideologies

The ideology of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court has always been a topic of discussion and debate, and with hot-button issues before the Court like the health care law mandate, immigration and affirmative action, the chatter is louder than ever. But just where do the justices sit on the ideological scale?

According to a news study, the justices are not a band of judicial activists, as some accuse. Their diverse views largely mirror those of Americans, according to researchers.

“Despite its intentional isolation from popular pressure, the Court’s decisions are not out of line with public preferences,” write Stephen Jessee of the University of Texas and Neil Malhotra of Stanford University in the unpublished paper “Ideological Proximity and Support for the Supreme Court,” according to the Washington Post. “This contrasts with popular images of judges as rogue activists.”

According to the study, the Court’s most conservative justice is Justice Clarence Thomas, whose views lie to the right of 97 percent of Americans surveyed. Justice Antonin Scalia was second, with views that are more conservative than about 89 percent of Americans.

On the other end of the scale, retired Justice John Paul Stevens was seen as the most left-leaning jurist, with views that are more liberal than 85 percent of surveyed Americans. He just beat out Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is to the left of 83 percent of those surveyed.

Stevens never sent Scalia to the spanking machine

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens showed his sense of humor – and patience – during an interview last night with Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert.

After Colbert expressed disappointment with his team for not securing an active Supreme Court justice to interview, he chided Stevens for failing to take his lifetime appointment literally. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but you sound like a quitter,” Colbert said.

“I am,” Stevens replied. “I am a quitter. After 37 years you’re entitled to quit.”

Speaking about Stevens’ book, “Five Chiefs,” Colbert asked: “Were you upset that you were never one of the chiefs?”

“Well, you know, I was acting chief for a while,” Stevens said.

“Did you go mad with power?” Colbert queried. “You know, ‘Scalia – through the spanking machine!’”

“No I never went that far,” Stevens chuckled.

On the Citizens United ruling, Colbert challenged Stevens’ assertion that, although corporations case considered persons in some contexts, they don’t enjoy all the rights that humans do.

“You don’t have the right to judge the way” corporations do things, Colbert said.

“I think I do,” Stevens replied.
“You do? Why, because you’re a Supreme Court justice?”

“That’s right,” Stevens said.

“Ok. fantastic,” Colbert snarks. “Ok. You’re a Supreme Court justice, I’m not. That gives you the right to judge things. That’s very convenient.”

Colbert’s last question for Stevens: “Are there any decisions you’ve made that you’ve regretted?”

“Other than this interview?” Stevens said. “I don’t think so.”

See the whole interview here.

Quoted: Justice Stevens on retiring (perhaps too soon)

“Oddly enough, since that time, I’ve felt fine and I’m sure the way the last year has gone, I would have been perfectly capable of continuing the job because I’ve continued to do a fair amount of writing that I’ve enjoyed. That’s one of the things that I enjoyed particularly about the job – I liked doing the writing. And, of course, the work is challenging. But I may have jumped the gun a little bit.”

~ Justice John Paul Stevens, 91, speaking in an interview with AARP’s Inside E Street about his decision to retire last year after stumbling while announcing his dissent in Citizens United v. FEC – a decision he now admits may have been a bit premature.

Even in retirement, Stevens forcefully dissents (access required)

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens – who wasted no opportunity as a justice to voice his opinions in dissents, particularly in cases involving the  death penalty – took the unusual move of sharply criticizing a recent opinion by his former colleagues on the Court.

Speaking in New York Monday night at a dinner sponsored by the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevens made clear his strong disagreement with the Court’s recent ruling in Connick v. Thompson, in which the Court held that district attorney’s office couldn’t be held liable for failure to train under §1983 based on a single Brady violation by its employees. In so ruling, the Court overturned a $14 million award by a jury to a man who wrongly convicted of murder and spent 18 years on death row before being exonerated by blood evidence only weeks before he was set to be executed.

The blood evidence had been hidden by one of the prosecutors, who later confessed to doing so on his death bed. The jury found that the Brady violation was “substantially caused by the District Attorney’s failure, through deliberate indifference, to establish policies and procedures” to avoid such violations.

Stevens called the facts of the case “shocking,” and blasted the rule followed by Justice Clarence Thomas in the majority opinion, which held that that plaintiffs must show a pattern of violations in order to hold a district attorney or other government supervisor liable for failure to train.

“Why is it that when employees in a District Attorney’s office commit flagrant violations of constitutional rights it is not grounds for imposition of tort liability on attorneys’ employer?” Stevens asked the crowd, according to the text of his speech, which was obtained by the Wall Street Journal‘s Law Blog. “In other words, why does the familiar common law doctrine of respondeat superior not subject a government employer to liability for constitutional torts committed by its employees acting within the scope of their employment?”

He called on Congress to respond – as it did after other Court rulings such as Ledbetter, by making “a simple potential change in a federal rule of law that would have salutary effects on the administration of justice.”

Stevens: Tongue slip led to retirement decision (access required)

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his decision to step down from the nation’s highest Court in April of 2010. But he made his decision months earlier: on Jan. 21, 2010, to be exact. That was the day Stevens announced from the bench his dissent in the controversial case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

As he read from his dissenting opinion, his speech faltered. The incident was noted by members of the Supreme Court press, including CBS News’ Jan Crawford, who wrote: “it was striking to see him appear to stumble over words as he read it, to mispronounce words like ‘corruption’ and ‘allegation,’ to seem to lose his place in his summary, to often hit the microphone with his hand or his papers.”

She added that it could have been “just a bad day.” But Stevens, speaking recently to The Atlantic, revealed that for him, it was much more. Despite his doctor’s diagnosis that there was “no problem,” Stevens decided not to wait around until there was a problem.

“[T]hat was the day I decided to resign,” Stevens said. “I learned giving that talk that I had a speech problem.”

Happy birthday Justice Stevens (access required)

He may have retired from the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court, but we are sure Justice John Paul Stevens’ former colleagues and other Supreme Court enthusiasts wish him a happy birthday today.

The justice turns 91.