Prior contributors have rightly emphasized Justice Stevens’ skill in cobbling together majorities. Not to be discounted are Justice Stevens’ powerful and eloquent dissents.
Especially in recent years, Justice Stevens has been a resolute defender of core democratic principles that he has deemed threatened by recent rulings. In his remarks yesterday, President Obama referenced Justice Stevens’ dissent in Citizens United a few months ago. The President indicated that his nominee will be “someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”
Another recent Justice Stevens dissent deserves equal attention. In 2007, the Court issued a sharply divided decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District that limited the ability of school districts to take account of race to promote diversity and address racial isolation in their schools. Dissenting, Justice Stevens lamented the majority’s attempt to “rewrite the history of one of the Court’s most important decisions” -- Brown v. Board of Education. He reiterated his long-standing “view that a decision to exclude a member of a minority because of his race is fundamentally different from a decision to include a member of a minority for that reason.”
Ignoring this distinction, the Court has in recent years drastically undermined efforts to redeem the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal citizenship for all. An important part of Justice Stevens’ legacy will be his recognition that the Constitution permits, and in many circumstances demands, protection of efforts -- whether by Congress or a local school district -- to promote inclusion of all citizens in every facet of our nation’s political, social, and cultural life. — Debo Adegbile, director of litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund