CBA Record Sept-Oct 2019
Stevens “fought against a rigid, narrow, and manipulative reading of the Constitution, in favor of a common-sense mode of textual interpretation that viewed constitutional issues through the lens of modern realities, as well as historical context.”When Stevens was unable to forge a court majority, he did not hesitate to dissent. As Linda Greenhouse reported, Stevens said that his frequent dissents “arose from a convic- tion that both the public and the law were best served when differing views were expressed and explained, rather than suppressed for the sake of surface collegiality.” Open-minded Despite his strong will, Stevens was extraordinarily open- minded. He told an interviewer shortly after his retirement from the Supreme Court that he had “often changed his mind about issues after reading the briefs and hearing oral argu- ments.” Stevens said, “I have found very often I’m surprised [that] the result I come out with is not necessarily what I assumed in advance.” One former clerk remembered that, if Stevens were especially troubled about a case, he would con- sult another justice with whom he generally did not see eye to eye. “I’m going to talk to Nino [Justice Antonin Scalia]. I want to hear what Nino thinks.” The former clerk explained that Stevens “craved the viewpoint of someone who would most challenge his thinking.” Another former clerk said it best: “Justice Stevens was open to being wrong.” Separate and apart from their intellectual gifts, Lincoln and Stevens were both estimable athletes. Lincoln was a splendid runner and excelled at “fives,” an outdoor form of handball. As a wrestler, he was accomplished enough to be enshrined in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and apparently was a trash talker worthy of the modern pro wrestling circuit. Lincoln also played an early version of baseball. Stevens’ sports pursuits were more genteel, but he played both tennis and golf well into his 90s, routinely besting oppo- nents who were many decades younger. Justice Souter once encountered Stevens in the Supreme Court parking garage, still in his tennis whites after an early morning match. When he asked Stevens who had won, Stevens jumped up and down and exclaimed, “I beat the pants off of him!” Stevens shot a hole in one when he was in his 80s. He played baseball in his youth and was a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan who witnessed three World Series games at Wrigley Field, in 1929, 1932, and 2016, and famously threw out the first pitch at a Cubs- Reds game there in September 2005 – at age 85. Like Abraham Lincoln, John Paul Stevens was an uncom- mon man with a common touch, who made the Land of Lincoln proud of her native son. Godspeed, Mr. Justice Stevens.
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James D. Wascher is a federal administrative law judge and a former member of the CBA Record Editorial Board.
30 September/October 2019
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