U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens's thirty-five-year tenure was marked by intellectual rigor, lack of pretension, and the firm belief that absolutism had no place on the bench.
And therein lies Stevens’s tremendous appeal as a judge—regardless of whether one agrees with all of his decisions. He was an absolutist about nothing. Absolute positions on the law—be they on the subject of free speech or the framers’ intent—often require the judge to set down reason and common sense so that he can hold a banner with both hands. It is therefore unsurprising that the one justice about whom Stevens has no kind words in Five Chiefs is Clarence Thomas, who is more rigid in his vision of the Constitution than perhaps any justice in the Court’s history. If the Tea Party has taught us anything, it is that the absolutists will shout past each other until the whole damn operation grinds to a halt. Without Stevens, the Supreme Court is that much more likely to do the same thing.
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