- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005


Forgive Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens if he appears a bit old-fashioned. He plays in bridge tournaments, is a fan of Perry Mason and considers Babe Ruth one of his heroes.

He wears bow ties, won a Bronze Star in World War II and enjoys reading biographies.

The high court’s senior member also feels comfortable in front of a computer and is known to be a feisty opponent on the tennis court.

For Justice Stevens, who turns 86 in April, today marks his 30th anniversary on the court. There is no indication that Justice Stevens, appointed by President Ford, appears ready to retire.

He sends e-mails, plays golf and tennis, and his clout shows in recent rulings on capital punishment, eminent domain and homosexual rights.

“The guy is ageless. There’s been no slowdown,” said Eduardo Penalver, a Fordham Law School professor and former Stevens clerk. “I think he’s coming into his own right now.”

It isn’t clear how Justice Stevens will shape a court that is in flux. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist died in September at age 80; the next oldest justice, 75-year-old Sandra Day O’Connor, is retiring.

To succeed Justice O’Connor, President Bush has picked Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. Like Judge Alito, Justice Stevens was a 55-year-old appeals court judge when he was nominated to the court in 1975.

It took the Senate just 2 weeks to unanimously confirm Justice Stevens. Recent confirmations have lasted much longer.

Justice Stevens had a more prominent role at the court over the past year while Chief Justice Rehnquist was fighting cancer and absent from the bench for five months.

In June, for example, he wrote a 5-4 eminent domain decision that gave local governments broader power to seize private property to generate tax revenue.

Justice Stevens was influential in a 5-4 decision in March that outlawed the death penalty for juvenile criminals. Three years ago, he had written: “The practice of executing such offenders is a relic of the past and is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society. We should put an end to this shameful practice.”

Justice Stevens does not grant interviews to reporters. But he has been very forthright in his public speeches.

This past summer he gave a blistering criticism of capital punishment. DNA evidence has shown “that a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously,” he said. “It indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice.”

Almost from the beginning of his service, he showed a liberal streak and penchant for dissents.

“I don’t think there ever was any conservative there,” said Lino Graglia, a law professor at the University of Texas. “Stevens seems to enjoy taking eccentric positions. There is a maverick quality about him.”

Justice Stevens is the father of three daughters. His son, who served in Vietnam, died after battling cancer. The justice, who remarried after a 1979 divorce, splits his time between suburban Virginia and Florida.

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