In the heat of oral argument, it can be hard for lawyers arguing before the Supreme Court to know which Justice is addressing them. But when the Justice softly inquired, "May I ask you a question?" lawyers always knew it was Justice Stevens. For one thing, Justice Stevens did, in fact, ask questions -- real, not rhetorical, ones, designed to elicit answers and not to score debating points. For another, Justice Stevens asked his questions politely, treating the lawyers before him with courtesy and respect.
The Justice's courtly and somewhat formal manners are noteworthy in themselves; the point of good manners, after all, is to make the people around you feel valued and welcomed, and both on and off the bench, Justice Stevens had the best manners I have ever seen. But Justice Stevens' questioning at argument also revealed something deeper: the importance he attached to treating all people with respect and equal regard -- the value that animated his decisions, as well. — Pamela Harris