Toobin: The Supreme Court Sans Justice Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens SCOTUS (AP)

Lauded legal writer Jeffrey Toobin has a profile of Justice John Paul Stevens in the current issue of the New Yorker. The details will certainly be scrutinized more and more over the next month as Stevens revealed to Toobin that he will decide whether to leave the bench early next month.

Stevens, whom Toobin describes as “an unlikely liberal icon,” holds a significant place on the current Court. While the possibility of his exit has been discussed at length during the past months, Toobin explores what the court would look like without its bow-tied liberal leader. Some of the interesting characterizations of Stevens role:

  • Stevens as the last of the moderate Republicans:  “his departure will mark a cultural milestone. The moderate-Republican tradition that he came out of ‘goes way back,’ Stevens said. ‘But things have changed.’ “
  • Stevens as a non-partisan equaliser: When Stevens leaves, the Supreme Court will be just another place where Democrats and Republicans fight.
  • Stevens as rare proponent of caution: especially since Roberts took over as Chief Justice, Stevens has found himself confronting colleagues who have a very different approach—an aggressive, line-drawing conservatism that appears bent on remaking great swaths of Supreme Court precedent.
  • Stevens as a liberal activist: Gay rights and abortion-rights cases, “which are based on what are known as “unenumerated rights” in the Constitution, have long drawn the ire of conservatives. “It’s in recent years that Stevens has most become an activist judge, on issues like homosexual rights,” [conservative scholar and unsuccessful High Court nominee Robert H.] Bork told me. “He finds rights in the Constitution that no plausible reading could find there.”

Read the full profile, including a detailed history of Justice Stevens’ life before the bench, at the New Yorker.

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