John Paul Stevens, 1920-2019*

I do not mourn his passing because he

was the author of a diverse set of important opinions. In Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, he wrote for a unanimous court in outlining the process by which courts should review federal agencies’ interpretation of the laws that the agencies administer. In Atkins v. Virginia, the court – by a vote of 6-3 – ruled that the Constitution bars the execution of the intellectually disabled. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court – by a vote of 5-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts recused – ruled that the use of military commissions to try terrorism suspects violated both the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention and had not been authorized by Congress. And in Kelo v. City of New London, a divided court ruled that the city’s taking of private property to sell for private development as part of an economic development plan was a “public use” within the meaning of the Constitution’s takings clause – even if the land was not going to be used for the public.

Chevron required courts to defer to agencies’ interpretations of vague statutes, thus enabling agencies to legislate (and then to adjudicate based on their own legislation).

Atkins further weakened the efficacy of capital punishment by drawing a line where none need be drawn: murder is murder regardless of the perpetrator’s supposed state of mind or mental ability.

Hamdan undermined the ability of the president, as commander-in-chief, to wage war against America’s enemies.

Kelo was a body blow to property rights, which are an essential ingredient of liberty.

Nominating Stevens to the Supreme Court was Jerry Ford’s biggest mistake. In second place is his pardon of Nixon, who — unlike Trump — was actually guilty of offenses that were not only impeachable but also indictable.
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* The original title of this post was “John Paul Stevens, 1920-1919” — an epic typo that reflects my deep roots in the 20th century. The 21st still seems strange to me, for many reasons.

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