Thank You Justice Stevens

April 9, 2010

Justice John Paul Stevens has sent a letter to President Obama announcing his retirement from the Supreme Court at the end of the Court's current term. This is hardly an unexpected event-Stevens is 89. Still, it is a poignant moment. Stevens has been a tireless champion of civil liberties, including freedom of conscience. He was a stalwart defender of church-state separation, and through his persuasive powers he was often able to garner a Court majority to support a proper reading of the Establishment Clause. Even when he was not successful, his dissents often took perfect aim at the flaws in the prevailing opinion. In the Zelman case, which upheld government-funded vouchers that could be used for parochial schools on the ground that the students' parents, not the government, were choosing to support the schools, Stevens pointedly observed in his dissent that that "the voluntary character of the private choice to prefer a parochial education over an education in the public school system seems to me quite irrelevant to the question whether the government's choice to pay for religious indoctrination is constitutionally permissible." In the same opinion, Justice Stevens also underscored the importance of church-state separation: "Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundations of our democracy."

We will miss Justice Stevens. We can only hope that his replacement will be as strong an advocate of our constitutional rights.


#1 asanta on Saturday April 10, 2010 at 9:52pm

He is leaving very large shoes to fill. Let us hope Obama’s nominee is up to the job!

#2 darshialoo (Guest) on Sunday April 11, 2010 at 7:35am

Dr. Lindsay,

Who do you think Obama may choose as his replacement?

#3 korn on Monday April 12, 2010 at 12:22pm

He is leaving very large shoes to fill. Let us hope Obama’s nominee is up to the job!

#4 Ronald A. Lindsay on Monday April 12, 2010 at 2:21pm

The front-runner appears to be the current Solicitor General, Elena Kagan. But two other strong possibilities are Merrick Garland and Diane Wood, both of whom are federal appellate judges. Any one of these three would probably be a good justice (for me, that means someone strong on civil liberties), but I have a preference for Diane Wood, who, in her opinions, has shown herself to be a strong defender of church-state separation.
BTW, in my prior life as a litigator I had the pleasure of arguing an appeal before Judge Garland. He had read the briefs and he had a great grasp of the case and the relevant law—which may explain why we lost.

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