Breaking News

Jeffrey Toobin profiles Justice Stevens

This morning, the New Yorker published Jeffrey Toobin’s lengthy article on Justice John Paul Stevens, “an unlikely liberal icon.”  Toobin collects a wealth of biographical detail – from the Justice’s attendance at Babe Ruth’s famous “called shot” game to his father’s conviction for embezzlement (which the Illinois Supreme Court later declared to be based on “not a scintilla of evidence”), his own service as a cryptographer in World War II and then as a clerk to Justice Rutledge, and his private practice in Chicago.  Interviewing a number of former clerks to Justice Stevens, Toobin reports insights into his judicial philosophy and wonder at his regular games of singles tennis.

Toobin also reports that Justice Stevens has not yet decided whether to retire at the end of this term: “On March 8th, he told me that he would make up his mind in about a month.”

Toobin quotes Justice Stevens:

  • On Citizens United: “If it is not necessary to decide a case on a very broad constitutional ground, when other grounds are available, then doesn’t that create the likelihood that people will think you’re not following the rules?”
  • On whether he particularly regretted any cases: “Dozens. There are a lot I’m very unhappy with.”
  • On statutory interpretation: “[T]he legislature really works with the judges—contrary to the suggestion that the statute is a statute all by itself,” Stevens said. “There is an understanding that there are areas of interpretation that are going to have to be filled in later on, and the legislators rely on that. It’s part of the whole process. And you realize that they’re not totally separate branches of government—they’re working together.”
  • On his plans for retirement: “Well, I still have my options open,” he said. “When I decided to just hire one clerk, three of my four clerks last year said they’d work for me next year if I wanted them to. So I have my options still. And then I’ll have to decide soon.”
  • On President Obama: “I have a great admiration for him, and certainly think he’s capable of picking successfully, you know, doing a good job of filling vacancies.” He added, “You can say I will retire within the next three years. I’m sure of that.”
  • On why he does not attend the State of the Union: “I went to a few of them when I was first on the Court, but I stopped,” Stevens told me. “First, they are political occasions, where I don’t think our attendance is required. But also it comes when I am on a break in Florida. To be honest with you, I’d rather be in Florida than in Washington.”