In a recent April, 2010 interview with New York Times columnist Adam Liptak, Justice Stevens revealed one of the litmus tests that he would use to determine whether it was time to leave the Court.
"One of the tests I had for myself as to when I would retire was that if I ever got to the point that I stopped writing the first draft that would be a sign that I was no longer up to the job the way I think it should be done."
While Stevens quickly added that he was still drafting his own opinions, I find it fascinating that one of the yardsticks the Justice used to measure whether to retire imposed a standard that the other eight justices on the Supreme Court can't meet.
Until his retirement, Justice Stevens was the last link to a tradition of opinion writing that stretched back to the very creation of the Supreme Court. Think of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., standing at his grandfather's writing desk - fountain pen in hand and surrounded by a halo of cigar smoke. Or Hugo Black, sitting in his study in his Alexandria townhouse and explaining to his law clerks how Supreme Court opinions should be written so as to be understood by the man on the street.
The current justices maintain that the practice of having law clerks prepare opinion drafts is not a troubling delegation of authority, but is merely a useful and efficient means of starting the opinion writing process. One wonders, however, is something more unique and important has been lost with retirement of Justice Stevens and the end of this aforementioned tradition of opinion writing. — Todd Peppers