Judge Stevens has announced his retirement from the Supreme Court of the US.
He had a long career on the bench, spanning 35 years. His most prominent opinions include the following.
- He wrote the majority opinion in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica, 1978, in which he held that the FCC has the power to ban ‘indecent’ speech in radio broadcasting.
- He dissented in Texas v Johnson, 1989, the case where the Supreme court held that flag-burning as a means of political protest is protected under the First Amendment. In his dissent, an embarrassingly incoherent and ad-hoc piece of writing in my opinion, Stevens claimed that because the ideas of liberty and equality are worth protecting, the flag (which uniquely symbolizes these ideas) is also worth protecting.
- He wrote the majority opinion in Kelo v City of New London, 2005, the egregious decision which handed the government the right to seize private property from individuals and hand it over to privately held corporations.
- He dissented in D.C. v Heller, 2008, the landmark case which held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms for private self-defense.
- He dissented in Citizens United v FEC, 2010, where the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects the right of incorporated organizations (which includes NGOs, labor unions and companies) to fund independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. In my opinion, this case was the biggest victory for free speech in the last five years.
As the above examples make clear, Judge Stevens was on the wrong side of individual liberty in some of the most important cases of his time on the bench. Yes, some of his other opinions did further the cause of liberty, typically cases that involved detainee rights. But on the whole, this libertarian is glad to see Judge Stevens go.