Stevens will be missed
There’s a touch of irony to the career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who announced his retirement last week just shy of his 90th birthday.
Here’s a jurist whose votes over the past 35 years have generally pleased liberals and frustrated conservatives. Yet Stevens was appointed by a Republican president — the late Gerald R. Ford. And Ford remarked later in life that he was prepared to let history’s judgment of his presidency rest solely on his selection of Stevens.
Ford chose more wisely than we knew. Though Stevens is widely considered to be the leader of the liberal wing of the court, he will be remembered, in part, for reaching out to swing votes on the court whenever possible to build consensus.
Given how politically polarized the country is today, and how that polarization is reflected by the current makeup of the court, Stevens will be sorely missed.
As New York Times reporter Adam Liptak wrote, Stevens “may be the last justice from a time when ability and independence, rather than perceived ideology, were viewed as the crucial qualifications for a seat on the court.”
Sadly, we agree. When political publications such as the American Spectator write about the need to confirm “dependable” justices, one wonders if the Supreme Court is less of a court and more a third legislative house where the left and the right battle to get their own agendas passed.
As for Stevens’ successor, two of the oft-mentioned candidates, Solicitor General Elena Kagan and District of Columbia Federal Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, are Jewish. In addition, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, also Jewish, is overseeing the selection process for President Obama.
Not that it should be the main criteria for making an appointment, but there are already two Jewish justices on the court: Ruth Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer. The president might do well to continue diversifying the makeup of the court by naming an Asian American or an African-American woman. Our community is already well represented.
What should be the main criteria is a justice who has no political allegiance when he (or she) puts on the black robe. Stevens made rulings during his career that disappointed liberals as well as conservatives. It is said by some that he didn’t drift to the left so much as the court drifted to the right.
Whichever is true, Stevens was his own man. That’s becoming rare in today’s politically charged judicial environment. His independence, and not necessarily his rulings, is why he will be a tough act to follow.