The John Paul Stevens Myth

by Jonathan Chait | April 9, 2010

John Paul Stevens, as many suspected, is retiring from the Supreme Court. As it happens, Justin Driver has an assessment of Stevens in the latest issue of TNR. The article is subscriber-only, but that's a good reason to subscribe.

Driver argues that Stevens, contrary to his own claims and the claims of his admirers, has actually moved clearly leftward during his tenure:

Commentators have embraced Stevens’s preferred self-image, largely portraying him as an island of stasis amid a sea of dynamism. Adam Liptak dutifully relayed the justice’s assessment in the Times earlier this month: “His views have generally remained stable, [Stevens] said, while the court has drifted to the right over time.” But, while the Court, the GOP, and the nation as a whole all became more conservative during Stevens’s tenure, these trends do not negate the fact that Stevens has also tacked hard to the left. Indeed, examining his early years on the Court reveals rulings that would be unfathomable coming from Stevens today. While his early record is habitually described as “quirky,” it is underappreciated that this quirkiness often took Stevens in conservative directions—particularly in cases involving society’s most contentious legal disputes. Rather than applauding Stevens for a nonexistent steadfastness and misremembering the justice that he once was, the legal left should instead be content to celebrate the admirable justice that he has become.

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