One person we haven’t heard from in the hubbub over replacing Justice John Paul Stevens is Stevens himself. That’s unsurprising, but not inevitable. A few words on judicial selection from this respected birthday boy—Justice Stevens turns 90 years old today— would be a gift from him to the nation.
Stevens doesn’t attend presidential State of the Union addresses. He keeps as far away from the political branches of government as he can. But there is precedent for Stevens to become engaged in the discussion of a Court nominee. The facile pundits who claim Stevens is the Court’s liberal hero or bum—depending on their point of view—overlook the fact that in 1987, Stevens publicly endorsed President Ronald Reagan’s choice of archconservative Judge Robert Bork to replace Justice Lewis Powell Jr. Stevens called Bork “a very well qualified candidate and one [who] will be a very welcome addition to the Court.” He told the audience he was addressing, “I see no reason why I shouldn’t express [my opinion] publicly.”
In my opinion, Stevens saw Bork as a peer in the law and an intellectual power who could contribute fresh ideas to Court deliberations, as he did, though probably from a different perspective. His statement on Bork’s behalf, which Bork never appreciated, testified to Stevens’s vision of the Supreme Court as non-ideological and impartial. Call it naïve, but Stevens still has that vision—more as a hope nowadays than an observation.
His belief in an independent judiciary might prompt Stevens to comment on the upcoming battle for his replacement. It’s unlikely he would publicly endorse or disapprove of a candidate, but he might seize an opportunity to throw some oil on the roiling political waters. — Bill Barnhart