Praising and replacing John Paul Stevens


Now that John Paul Stevens has made it official, we can start speculating on whether his replacement will bring the Jewish count on the Supreme Court to three (and no WASPs!?).

Here’s the j.’s version of an AP story on that very point:

Two Jewish women are said to be among the three leading candidates for the next Supreme Court opening; Justice John Paul Stevens, the court’s oldest member and leader of its liberal bloc, announced Friday, April 9 that he will step down when the court finishes its work for the summer.

Stevens made the announcement 11 days before his 90th birthday. When he retires after more than 34 years on the court, President Barack Obama will have his second high court pick in as many years.

The two Jewish women are Judge Diane Wood, 59, of the federal appeals court in Chicago, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 49. Both were finalists last year when Obama chose Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter.

[CORRECTION: Wood is not Jewish. But another rumored candidate, Judge Merrick Garland, 57, of the federal appeals court in Washington, is.]

Several Jewish groups have issued statements pegged to Stevens’ retirement announcement.

  • American Jewish Congress: “A Supreme Court without Justice John Paul Stevens will be, for almost all members of the bar of the Supreme Court, and for that matter, the nation, a different and unfamiliar place. Through almost 35 years, seven presidents, and hundreds of opinions — some of them of overarching importance — Justice Stevens went about the business of judging quietly and competently, often striking out on his own, not content to simply follow well-trod legal paths. He was a stalwart in support of separation of church and state, but an uncertain defender of religious liberty. He was a staunch defender of freedom of speech, and of racial, gender and sexual orientation equality. We have not always agreed with the Justice — how could it be otherwise over such a long tenure? — but his opinions always commanded respect, if not assent. President Obama has large shoes to fill.”
  • Anti-Defamation League: “Associate Justice John Paul Stevens is a staunch and tireless defender of civil rights and religious liberty, and he will be missed by all who work to ensure that America lives up to its constitutional promise of equality and fairness. Justice Stevens understands that our Constitution was designed to ensure that the rights of minorities must not be subject to majority whim. On that basis, he has consistently defended the rights of gay Americans and racial and religious minorities.  He also understands that protecting adherents to minority religions from undue government influence strengthens our nation’s democracy. As he wrote in a landmark religious freedom case: “Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundations of our democracy.” We thank Justice Stevens for his lifetime of service to our nation.
  • National Council of Jewish Woman: “”NCJW is grateful for Justice John Paul Stevens’ outstanding service to the United States during his 34-year service on the Supreme Court. Throughout his extraordinary tenure, he has championed the constitutional values of equality, justice, and opportunity for all. His leadership in this regard as well as his keen legal mind will be missed.Nominating a justice to the Supreme Court is one of the most important and enduring actions of a president. NCJW urges President Obama to select a nominee with a proven commitment to fundamental constitutional rights, including reproductive justice, civil and individual rights, and the separation of religion and state. We urge the White House and the Senate Judiciary Committee to work to ensure an open and illuminating hearing process that will result in increased clarity on the nominee’s record and views. Since 2001, through our BenchMark judicial nominations campaign, NCJW has been educating our members and others about the impact that the courts have on virtually every aspect of our lives and the need for all of us to become engaged in the judicial nominations process. We will be mobilizing our members to speak out on the nomination and confirmation of an individual who will honor and advance Justice Stevens’ legacy.”

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