Posted on April 12, 2010 at 11:46 am by James Bickford
The news of Justice Stevensâ€™ pending retirement has dominated the Supreme Court beat since it was first announced on Friday morning. Erin Miller collected some of the early coverage here. Nina Totenberg reported on the retirement Friday, and discussed it on Saturday (here and here). Adam Liptak of the New York Times and Robert Barnes of the Washington Post expanded their coverage for the Saturday editions, while Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor added his.
Since the announcement, there has been an outpouring of reflections on the legacy that Justice Stevens will leave behind. The other Justices released statements praising their departing colleague, and a number of Stevens clerks recorded their memories of the Justice on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post (here and here). The Washington Post collected other memories of Justice Stevensâ€™ service here. The National Law Journal established a blog, Speaking of Stevens, to which clerks, litigants and professors have been adding their thoughts, and created a separate page â€” The Stevens Legacy â€” with reflections on the Justiceâ€™s role in terrorism and criminal justice cases, as well as his commitment to access to the courts.
Major editorial boards have also weighed in. The New York Times called the Justice â€œan eloquent voice for civil liberties, equal rights and fairnessâ€ as well as â€œa strong voice for victims of discrimination, workers and criminal defendants,â€ and it urged President Obama to choose a replacement that shared those qualities. The Washington Post recounted the Justiceâ€™s remarkable biography and suggested that a â€œnominee with Justice Stevens’s keen intellect, integrity, strong work ethic and collegiality would serve the court and the country well.â€ For the Los Angeles Times, Justice Stevens â€œepitomized an approach to judging that always serves the court well: dispassionate, deliberative, but also determined to adapt to changes in the life of the nation.â€
The Chicago Tribune called Justice Stevens a â€œmore old-fashioned conservativeâ€ than recent Republican appointees, and noted that Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit, and Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit, who are most often mentioned as potential nominees, all have connections to Chicago. The Wall Street Journal described the retirement as giving President Obama â€œa chance to lay the groundwork for a future liberal Supreme Court majorityâ€ and discussed the same three candidates to replace Justice Stevens. (For more coverage of the upcoming nomination, see the second part of this round-up.)
Many commentators reflected on the curiosity that a Republican appointee would have come to lead the Courtâ€™s liberal wing. Abdon Pallasch of the Chicago Sun-Times noted Justice Stevensâ€™ oft-repeated claim that he didnâ€™t move left, but rather the Court moved right, while David Savage of the Los Angeles Times described that shifting dynamic on a series of major issues. Mark Sherman and Calvin Woodward of the Associated Press traced a similar narrative, but Justin Driver of the New Republic suggested that the notion of an unchanging Justice Stevens was a self-serving myth. Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post suggested that â€œStevensâ€™s chief contribution has been to lead opposition to the galloping judicial overreach of the courtâ€™s conservatives.â€ Andrew Cohen of the Atlantic remembered the Justice as the last of the Rockefeller Republicans, and Bob Schieffer of CBS News reflected on the importance of Justice Stevens for the legacy of President Ford. Linda Greenhouse described the Justice as the last of an era â€œwhen a Supreme Court nominee didnâ€™t have to check every boxâ€: though he was nominated only two years after Roe v. Wade, at his confirmation hearing then-Judge Stevens faced no questions about the decision.
Others noted personal traits that had characterized the Justiceâ€™s tenure. At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West suggested that his career had been marked by empathy, a controversial talking point during the nomination and confirmation process of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. For Charles Lane of the Washington Post, it was Justice Stevensâ€™ civility that stood out, and Tony Mauro at the National Law Journal similarly noted the Justiceâ€™s â€œmodest manner.â€ Jess Bravin of The Wall Street Journal suggested that it was Stevensâ€™ â€œability to pull together a majority for his sideâ€ that will be hardest to replace. Rodger Citron opined that the Stevens retirement marked â€œthe loss of the Supreme Court’s pre-eminent common law Âlawyer.â€ Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times recalled the Justiceâ€™s Chicago connections, as did William Mullen of the Chicago Tribune.