Tuesday, September 25, 2007
New York Times has a long, but excellent article about Justice Stevens, the oldest member of the U.S. Supreme Court. If you want to be encouraged that life doesn't have to 'end' at 60, 70, or 80, it is worth a read.
Some excerpts follow:
Justice Stevens, the oldest and arguably most liberal justice, now finds himself the leader of the opposition. Vigorous and sharp at 87, he has served on the court for 32 years, approaching the record set by his predecessor, William O. Douglas, who served for 36.
In criminal-law and death-penalty cases, Stevens has voted against the government and in favor of the individual more frequently than any other sitting justice. He files more dissents and separate opinions than any of his colleagues.
He is the court’s most outspoken defender of the need for judicial oversight of executive power. And in recent years, he has written majority opinions in two of the most important cases ruling against the Bush administration’s treatment of suspected enemy combatants in the war on terror — an issue the court will revisit this term, which begins Oct. 1, when it hears appeals by Guantánamo detainees challenging their lack of access to federal courts.
He considers himself a “judicial conservative,” he said, and only appears liberal today because he has been surrounded by increasingly conservative colleagues.
“Including myself,” he said, “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell” — nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971 — “has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That’s bound to have an effect on the court.”
Stevens was born on April 20, 1920, the youngest of four boys. His paternal grandfather, James W. Stevens, made a fortune as the founder of the Illinois Life Insurance company, and in 1927, his father, Ernest J. Stevens, built the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, now the Hilton Chicago, which he called “the largest and finest hotel in the world.”
“I had a very happy childhood,” Stevens told me with a faraway look in his eyes. But events took a darker turn in 1934, when the Stevens Hotel went bankrupt in the Great Depression, and Stevens’s father, grandfather and uncle were [unfairly] indicted for diverting money from the Illinois Life Insurance company to make interest payments on bonds for the hotel.
Stevens’s uncle committed suicide, and his father was convicted in 1934 of embezzling $1.3 million.
I asked Stevens whether seeing his father unjustly convicted influenced his views on the Supreme Court. “I’m sure it did,” he replied. “You can’t forget about that.” Stevens said the experience had taught him a “very important lesson”: namely, “that the criminal justice system can misfire sometimes” because “it seriously misfired in that case.”
Since Stevens joined the court, he has been the only justice routinely to write the first drafts of his own opinions — the other justices have generally relied on clerks to write their first drafts and then rewritten (or at least edited) the drafts to various degrees.
“Sometimes the draft is pretty short,” Stevens told me, “but at least I write enough so that I’ve had a chance to think it through.” Stevens said writing a first draft was “terribly important” because “you often don’t understand a case until you’ve tried to write it out.”
During his early years on the court, Stevens was known as “the FedEx justice” because he would hand-write his drafts on a yellow pad, dictate them for his secretary, FedEx them to Washington so she could type them up and then FedEx back and forth with his law clerks for editing. “That was cumbersome,” he recalled. But he switched to computers about 20 years ago and, with a secure Internet connection and phone line, he has become the first telecommuting justice.
He swims every day in the ocean, plays tennis at least three times a week and plays golf two or three times a week. “I get a lot of exercise down there, and my wife feeds me very well, so it works out very well,” Stevens said happily. He tries to maintain this vigorous exercise schedule when he is in Washington, playing tennis two or three times a week, often with one of his three daughters. (His son died in 1996 of cancer.)
He is in such good physical shape that, in 2005, at age 85, he threw the first pitch at a Cubs-Reds game at Wrigley Field and got it right over the plate.
at 7:05 am