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Justice Stevens: A Model of Principle and Judicial RestraintMark Levine on MSNBC

April 9, 2010

Justice Stevens retirement will mark the end of the era.  His long service on the Supreme Court — the second-longest in American history upon his retirement — marked a profound shift rightward in the Republican Party.  Stevens, appointed by Gerald Ford, was, when chosen, in the mainstream of the Republican Party.  Now he’s considered, even by Democrats, to be on its liberal side.

There was a time when Republicans cared about environmental protection, worried about unfettered corporate power over American citizens, believed in upholding the constitutional rights of everyone (including those accused of a crime), and even, dare I say it, practiced social justice.  What a difference 34 years makes.  Stevens represented the old school of conservativism that combined compassion with the rule of law, which ironically has become the heart and soul definition of liberalism today.  Stevens fervently opposed the judicial activism practiced by today’s Supreme Court–the most audacious and radical in US history–a court that is so contemptuous not only of the People’s Representatives in Congress but so disdainful of the People themselves that it has declared corporations to be “We the People” and “human citizens” to be at best, a mere afterthought.

And Stevens believed in democracy.  He actually thought that the People, rather than his 5 black-robed ideologues, should choose the President of the United States through the electoral college. He fought the authoritarian, lawless urges of his brethren on the Supreme Court with passion, reason, grace and aplomb.

Such a principled, restrained Republican judge as Stevens, so respectful of the people’s elected representatives–a brand so common in the 1970’s–is practically extinct today. To fill Stevens’ great shoes.  Obama will have to find an intelligent, passionate and compassionate, strong rule-of-law liberal: one that believes that the court should defer to the electorate and should interpret the law rather than make the law, one that understands that judges are not kings or Presidents; they are public servants.

He will be sorely missed.

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  • Margie Mason April 12, 2010 9:38 pm

    I was listening to you on Leslie marshall just now and your great debate with Scalia (congrats). My question is does the 9th Amendment there fore protect us against the Citizens United case findings in that WE used to have the right as HUMANS to protect our votes that are now being allowed to be usurped by corporations????