April 09, 2010

Justice Stevens and Liberty

Following Justice Stevens' Retirement, Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said that Stevens "emerged as one of the Court’s most vocal and eloquent spokespersons for individual liberties, separation of powers, and equal access to justice. A master tactician, he leaves a legacy of championing personal freedoms and human dignity in defense of everyday Americans."

I am sure this sentiment will be echoed many times across the news media in the wake of his retirement. But I just want to introduce Ms. Aron to DC v. Heller, Kelo v. New London, and Citizens United where Justice Stevens wrote opinions, in major cases, that were quite hostile to "individual liberties" and "personal freedoms." Those cases make Justice Stevens more of a champion of government action than a defender of individual rights.

UPDATE: Cato's Ilya Shapiro makes a similar observation and adds that "even on those issues where friends of liberty can disagree in good faith as a matter of policy, such as abortion and the death penalty, Stevens admittedly and unabashedly asserted his own policy preferences instead of following the law."

UPDATE: Damon Root had previously commented on the pro-corporate legacy of Justice Stevens.
At the risk of spoiling all the lovely tributes going on, I’d like to suggest that Stevens’ new fans check out his majority opinion in a case that Toobin failed to mention: Kelo v. City of New London, the 2005 decision where Stevens and his most liberal colleagues (plus the "modestly libertarian" Justice Anthony Kennedy) upheld the government’s ability to seize private property via eminent domain and then hand the land over to another private party in order to widen the tax base. I’ve heard a lot recently about how Stevens stood up for “We the People” against the evil corporations in Citizens United, but what about the people who were literally forced out of their homes in New London, Connecticut, so the municipal government could clear their neighborhood and hand it over to a private developer? And let’s not forget why the developer wanted that land in the first place: The pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer had built a new research and development center on the adjacent land and the developer wanted to build a fancy new hotel, apartment buildings, and office towers to complement the Pfizer facility, something Justice John Paul Stevens was more than happy to oblige. That’s what I’d call a pro-corporate decision.

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