US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to retire in June
10 April 2010
John Paul Stevens, appointed to the Supreme Court by Gerald Ford in 1975 and the longest serving justice presently on the court, has announced that he will retire after the current term ends in late June. Stevens turns 90 on April 20, although by all accounts he remains in remarkably good health.
Stevens has become prominent in recent years as the leader of a four-vote moderate bloc, which frequently finds itself in dissent against the five-justice majority, particularly since extreme right-wing Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., replaced the more traditionally conservative Sandra Day O’Connor in January 2006.
As the senior justice, Stevens had the authority to assign the writing of decisions in cases where he was in the majority and the chief justice was in the minority. That role will now pass to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the 76-year-old Clinton appointee who is currently battling cancer.
Stevens was confirmed as an associate justice six years after Richard Nixon appointed Warren Burger to replace Earl Warren—himself a Republican nominee—as Chief Justice, signaling the beginning of the end of an era when the high court was widely viewed as a defender of civil rights. Stevens replaced William O. Douglas, a Franklin Roosevelt appointee who had a liberal record on civil rights and democratic rights during the heyday of the Warren court.
When Stevens joined the Supreme Court, its liberal wing was led by William J. Brennan, Jr., another liberal appointed by a Republican, and Thurgood Marshall, a Democratic appointee who previously was among the most prominent civil rights lawyers of the 1950s and 60s.
Although some perceived Stevens as becoming more liberal over the years, Stevens noted in a 2007 interview for the New York Times Magazine that he is “pretty darn conservative,” and that his views have not changed since 1975.
“Including myself,” Stevens said during the interview, “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell” —nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971— “has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That’s bound to have an effect on the court.”
Emphasizing this historical assessment, Stevens wrote in his dissent to the 2007 ruling which invalidated school district integration plans, “No member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.” (See “US Supreme Court rules school districts cannot consider race in integration plans”).
The high court’s right-wing trajectory is even more pronounced when it comes to defending corporate interests. The World Socialist Web Site noted in 2007 that this “shift is not a product solely of the court’s right-wing bloc of Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas, in alliance with “moderate” conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. The so-called ‘liberal’ justices, Breyer, Souter [since retired and replaced by Sonia M. Sotomayor] and Ginsburg, who wrote many of the majority opinions, are also instrumental in this development. More and more, aging Justice John Paul Stevens is an isolated dissenter in cases challenging corporate economic power, as he is in cases upholding attacks on fundamental constitutional rights of privacy and due process.” (See “US Supreme Court continues pattern of pro-corporate rulings”).