Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens died Monday, July 16 at a hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, due to complications from a stroke. Justice Stevens was 99 years old at the time of his passing. He was a Republican appointee who led the liberal wing of the court for a time and the third longest-serving Justice, with over 34 years on the high court.
President Gerald Ford nominated Judge Stevens to the Supreme Court to replace William O. Douglas, who retired. Douglas holds the record of longest-serving justice, just shy of 37 years. When nominated, Stevens had been working for five years as a member of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, where he was appointed by President Nixon.
A Republican? A liberal? How about a Statist?
Confirmed by a unanimous 98-0 vote of the Senate on December 19, 1975, Stevens’ most memorable and significant rulings are those that limit individual rights and expand state power. In 2005, he wrote the Court’s opinion in Kelo v. City of New London, which held that local governments could confiscate anyone’s land to give to developers so that the government could take in more taxes. He dissented in Texas v. Johnson, the flag-burning case, claiming it was the flag’s special status that allowed the government to imprison those who insulted it with “unnecessary desecration”:
[I]deas are worth fighting for — and our history demonstrates that they are — it cannot be true that the flag that uniquely symbolizes their power is not itself worthy of protection from unnecessary desecration.
What ideas are promoted when society throws flag-burning protesters into cages, requiring everyone else to pay for the confinement? That question was un-answered in Stevens’ dissent. He also dissented in what is now, for the left, one of the Court’s most infamous cases, Citizens United, which held that a corporations’ rights include First Amendment rights, and attempts to shut down criticism of Hillary Clinton violated the law. Stevens notched his biggest win for the state and took a healthy bite out of the Court’s own power in an opinion he wrote in 1984 in a case called Chevron.
Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council
Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in the Chevron case. The case itself is less important than the Chevron Doctrine Stevens articulated and generally holds until today.
The Chevron doctrine is a rule about court review of agency actions where judges accept reasonable interpretations of a statute by an administrative agency, even if the judges might have favored a different interpretation themselves. If you are asking if that means federal court judges who are sworn to uphold the constitution defer to executive agency representatives and their interpretations rather than the judges’ own, the shocking answer is yes. Well, it’s not shocking for anyone in the go along get along swamp, and the decisions’ legacy is to grant more power to the executive and its rulemaking, while stripping power from the people and the courts.
Six New Amendments
After his retirement, Justice Stevens wrote about the law. In his 2014 book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, Stevens pushes to abolish the death penalty and gut the Second Amendment of any grant of individual rights, among other proposals. He called arguments that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right grounded in fiction rather than facts. His proposed improvements to James Madison’s work include language to dispel the notion that the Second Amendment confers any individual rights, adding “when serving in the Militia” to the text. If only he had been handy when Madison was drafting the original …
Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts said:
“On behalf of the Court and retired Justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice John Paul Stevens has passed away. A son of the Midwest heartland and a veteran of World War II, Justice Stevens devoted his long life to public service, including 35 years on the Supreme Court. He brought to our bench an inimitable blend of kindness, humility, wisdom, and independence. His unrelenting commitment to justice has left us a better nation. We extend our deepest condolences to his children Elizabeth and Susan, and to his extended family.”