Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy Birthday John Paul

John Paul Stevens celebrated his 89th birthday today and his 12,177th day (or 33 years and 123 days) as a United States Supreme Court Justice. He's ninth on the all time seniority list. Stevens would have to serve until July 16, 2011 to become number one in seniority, but on February 25, 2011, he would surpass Oliver Wendell Holmes as the oldest member to serve. According to the Social Security life expectancy table, Stevens should live 4.09 more years, so Holmes' record should fall if you believe the federal government.

For Supreme Court buffs, William O. Douglas holds the longevity record at over 36 years or 13,358 days.

Stevens was appointed to the court by President Gerald Ford and confirmed by the United States Senate 98-0. He was sworn into office on December 19, 1975. Coincidentally, he replaced William O. Douglas, who has resigned due to failing health. Prior to being nominated by Ford, Stevens served on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, having been appointed by President Richard Nixon on November 20, 1970.

Stevens' judicial philosophy has evolved over the years from that of a moderate conservative during his early years to currently being one of the most liberal members of the court. There was much speculation that Stevens would announce his retirement upon the election of Barack Obama, but Stevens has no signs of hanging up the robe anytime in the near future.

Stevens says his health, unlike that of fellow justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who has been battling colorectal cancer) is fine. People close to Stevens say that he is interested in breaking Douglas' record for Supreme tenure longevity and Holmes' record for pure longevity.

Stevens said, “I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative.” Stevens said that his views haven’t changed since 1975. 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 has been the senior associate justice, a position second in authority only to the chief justice. When the chief justice is in the majority and Stevens is in the minority, Stevens decides who will write the principal dissent; when the roles are reversed, Stevens assigns the majority opinion.

On the current court, in close cases, Stevens has wielded this power strategically. With himself included, he can usually rely on four liberal votes (David Souter, Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.) The four reliable conservative votes are Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. The swing vote is now Anthony Kennedy. Stevens open courts Kennedy for a fifth vote. Although generally conservative, Kennedy has a peculiar judicial philosophy which is difficult to define at times. In some instances, Stevens has assigned majority opinions to Kennedy to secure his vote; in others he has chosen to write majority opinions himself in ways that will persuade Kennedy to stay in the liberal camp.

Don't be surprised to see Stevens celebrate his 90th birthday as the senior associate justice on the court.

1 comment:

R. Powell said...

I heard that Stevens's intellect rivaled that of Michael Conahan. Is there any chance Obama might appoint Conahan or Ciavarella to the Court?