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Justice Weighs Desire v. Duty (Duty Prevails)


— November 30, -0001

Justice Stevens

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 – It is not every day that a Supreme Court justice calls his own decisions unwise. But with unusual candor, Justice John Paul Stevens did that last week in a speech in which he explored the gap that sometimes lies between a judge’s desire and duty.

Addressing a bar association meeting in Las Vegas, Justice Stevens dissected several of the recent term’s decisions, including his own majority opinions in two of the term’s most prominent cases. The outcomes were “unwise,” he said, but “in each I was convinced that the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator.”

In one, the eminent domain case that became the term’s most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government’s “taking” of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result “entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program” that was under constitutional attack. . . .

[J]ustice Stevens said he also regretted having to rule in favor of the federal government’s ability to enforce its narcotics laws and thus trump California’s medical marijuana initiative. “I have no hesitation in telling you that I agree with the policy choice made by the millions of California voters,” he said. But given the broader stakes for the power of Congress to regulate commerce, he added, “our duty to uphold the application of the federal statute was pellucidly clear.”

Don’t miss this rare and fascinating glimpse of Justice Stevens from Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times.


Justice Stevens

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 – It is not every day that a Supreme Court justice calls his own decisions unwise. But with unusual candor, Justice John Paul Stevens did that last week in a speech in which he explored the gap that sometimes lies between a judge’s desire and duty.

Addressing a bar association meeting in Las Vegas, Justice Stevens dissected several of the recent term’s decisions, including his own majority opinions in two of the term’s most prominent cases. The outcomes were “unwise,” he said, but “in each I was convinced that the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator.”

In one, the eminent domain case that became the term’s most controversial decision, he said that his majority opinion that upheld the government’s “taking” of private homes for a commercial development in New London, Conn., brought about a result “entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom of the program” that was under constitutional attack. . . .

[J]ustice Stevens said he also regretted having to rule in favor of the federal government’s ability to enforce its narcotics laws and thus trump California’s medical marijuana initiative. “I have no hesitation in telling you that I agree with the policy choice made by the millions of California voters,” he said. But given the broader stakes for the power of Congress to regulate commerce, he added, “our duty to uphold the application of the federal statute was pellucidly clear.”

Don’t miss this rare and fascinating glimpse of Justice Stevens from Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times.

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