RIP Justice John Paul Stevens

Photo: Allison Shelley/Getty

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has died at the age of 99, according to the New York Times. Stevens was appointed by President Gerald Ford and served on the court for 35 years, leaving behind an unlikely progressive legacy. He died from a stroke at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

“He brought to our bench an inimitable blend of kindness, humility, wisdom and independence,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement. “His unrelenting commitment to justice has left us a better nation.”

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Stevens retired from the court in 2010, and at that time was the second oldest and longest serving member in the court’s history. He entered the court as a moderate Republican and former anti-trust lawyer, but he ended up helping to steer the court leftwards.

From the Times:

It was Justice Stevens who wrote the court’s majority opinion in Rasul v. Bush, in 2004, which brought within the jurisdiction of the federal courts the hundreds of prisoners who had been captured as enemy combatants during the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and held at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

It was Justice Stevens who wrote the majority opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in 2006, which repudiated the Bush administration’s plan to put some of those detainees on trial by military commissions. “The Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction,” he declared.

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Among his other major accomplishment was a 2002 case that outlawed executing mentally disabled people, and decisions in favor of gay rights and abortion rights. He was famous for his dissenting opinions.

In his dissent in the Bush v. Gore case which decided the 2000 election, Stevens wrote that the true “loser” of the case was “the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

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Over the years, Stevens became an unexpected liberal voice on the court on issues like racial justice and the death penalty. In 2008, two years before he resigned from the court, he said it was time to reconsider “the justification for the death penalty itself.”

“I know that I, like most of my colleagues, have continued to participate in a learning process while serving on the bench,” Stevens said during a speech in 2005, about his ideological shift.

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In 2014, Stevens released a book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, that proposed radical changes to the constitution. These included amendments that would address limiting mass shootings, ending gerrymandering, getting rid of Citizens United, and abolishing the death penalty.

He was particularly brutal on his disagreement with interpretations of the Second Amendment.

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“Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands,” Stevens wrote.

Stevens was still active in the public sphere until last year, when he said in a speech that Brett Kavanaugh was unqualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

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