Justice Stevens: 'I did the best I could' | St. Louis Public Radio

Justice Stevens: 'I did the best I could'

Apr 26, 2016

The friendship that endured between justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia despite their ideological differences is well-known, but not uncommon, according to a former colleague.

"Nino was well-liked by his colleagues across the judicial spectrum," retired Justice John Paul Stevens said of Scalia, who died in February. "Nino's friendships with his colleagues, including both those who frequently disagreed with his views and those who more regularly shared his views, is legendary."

Stevens, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 until his retirement in 2010, said he first became aware of how well-liked Scalia was in 1982, when the conservative jurist was on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Stevens' friend and fellow liberal thinker Luther Swigert had just returned from a week sitting on the D.C. circuit.

"And I remember him telling me how much he had enjoyed that sitting, particularly because he had become a good friend of then-judge Scalia," Stevens said.

Stevens and Scalia frequently disagreed on legal theory — for example, Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion in a gun-rights case specifically to respond to Stevens' dissent. But Scalia was never difficult to work with, Stevens said, and had an "incomparably spontaneous" sense of humor.

Stevens spoke Monday on the campus of Washington University, part of the law school's Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series.

On whether he would come out of retirement to fill Scalia's seat: "I think the answer's 'No'." (Stevens is 96 years old)

On the 2nd Amendment: The Founding Fathers, Stevens said, believed that the right to bear arms was contingent on military service. "The recent Supreme Court decision Heller against the District of Columbia that found the right to bear arms an inherent and nearly unlimited right is clearly at odds with Madison’s original intentions."

On 'original intent': "I think it's part of your study of trying to understand what a particular statute or constitutional provision was intended to accomplish. I would never say don't look at it. I would say look at it among other values and other arguments before you come to rest on it on an issue."

On advice to young attorneys: "Remember that you should always be fair to the court and honest in your arguments. Don't make any arguments that you know have no merit. More important than winning the case is handling it according to the rules."

On his legacy: "I just did the best I could."

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