Stevens Celebrates 30 Years on High Court
Stevens Celebrates 30 Years on High Court
Monday December 19, 2005 2:01 AM
By GINA HOLLAND
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Forgive Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens if
he appears a bit old-fashioned. He plays in bridge tournaments, is a
fan of Perry Mason and considers Babe Ruth one of his heroes.
He wears bow ties, won a Bronze Star in World War II and enjoys
The high court's senior member also feels comfortable in front of a
computer and is known to be a feisty opponent on the tennis court.
For Stevens, who turns 86 in April, Monday marks his 30th anniversary
on the court.
There is no indication that Stevens, appointed by President Ford,
appears ready to retire.
He sends e-mails, plays golf and tennis and his clout shows in recent
rulings in capital punishment, land takings and gay rights. Once
nicknamed ``maverick'' for his many dissents, Stevens in recent years
has become an effective coalition builder.
``The guy is ageless. There's been no slowdown,'' said Eduardo
Penalver, a Fordham Law School professor and former Stevens clerk. ``I
think he's coming into his own right now.''
It is unclear how Stevens will shape a court that is in flux. Chief
Justice William H. Rehnquist died in September at age 80; the next
oldest justice, 75-year-old Sandra Day O'Connor, is retiring.
To succeed O'Connor, President Bush has picked Samuel Alito. Like
Alito, Stevens was a 55-year-old appeals court judge when Ford
nominated him to the court in early December 1975.
It took the Senate just two and a half weeks to unanimously confirm
Stevens, who at the time was described as a moderate conservative.
Recent confirmations have lasted much longer.
Stevens had a more prominent role at the court over the past year
while Rehnquist was fighting cancer and absent from the bench for five
months. Stevens presided over arguments and the court's biggest
decisions had his touch.
In June, for example, Stevens wrote a 5-4 decision that gave local
governments broader power to seize private property to generate tax
Stevens was influential in a 5-4 decision in March that outlawed the
death penalty for juvenile criminals. Three years ago, Stevens had
written: ``The practice of executing such offenders is a relic of the
past and is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a
civilized society. We should put an end to this shameful practice.''
Stevens does not grant interviews to reporters. But he has been very
forthright in his public speeches.
This past summer he gave a blistering criticism of the capital
punishment system. DNA evidence has shown ``that a substantial number
of death sentences have been imposed erroneously,'' he said. ``It
indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of
Also over the summer, he told an audience that he personally supported
medical marijuana laws although his ruling in June said people who
smoke the drug because their doctors recommend it to ease pain can be
prosecuted for violating federal drug laws.
Stevens is one of the clearest writers among the justices.
In the Bush v. Gore decision, which effectively settled the 2000
presidential election, Stevens wrote: ``Although we may never know
with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's
presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear.
It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of
Stevens replaced liberal Justice William O. Douglas, who was in
failing health. Ford also considered naming conservative Robert Bork.
Almost from the beginning of his service, Stevens showed a liberal
streak and penchant for dissents.
``I don't think there ever was any conservative there,'' said Lino
Graglia, a conservative who is a University of Texas law professor.
``Stevens seems to enjoy taking eccentric positions. There is a
maverick quality about him.''
Stevens is known for being a bit quirky. He favors the pronoun ``she''
instead of ``he'' when writing generally about a person.
He is the father of three daughters. A son, who served in Vietnam,
died after battling cancer.
Stevens, who remarried after a 1979 divorce, splits his time between
suburban Virginia and Florida. He and his second wife shun the
Washington social scene, although justices have their pick of parties
On the issues, he supports Roe v. Wade, has concerns about the death
penalty and wants a strong separation between church and state.
Of all the justices, he is perhaps the least recognizable, although he
had a high profile role in the swearing in of Roberts to be chief
justice. They walked down the steps of the Supreme Court together and
posed for photographs, a court tradition. Roberts, 50, held Stevens' arm.
On the bench Stevens sits between Roberts and Antonin Scalia. These
two conservatives have so far this term teamed up to ask tough
questions of lawyers in cases involving abortion and gay rights
protests. Stevens is a more mild-mannered questioner.
He also is the only one of the nine justices who has his law clerks
review every appeal, some 8,000 a year, including the long-shot cases
written without a lawyer's help. The other justices participate in a
pool, with clerks dividing the cases and recommending whether they are
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