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Justice John Paul Stevens’ Supreme Judgment Against Kavanaugh

The former U.S. Supreme Court Justice said he had thought Brett Kavanaugh to be “a fine federal judge and should [have] been confirmed, [but] his performance during the hearings changed my mind.”




John Paul Stevens photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens told an audience Thursday afternoon that he once was a strong supporter of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but no longer believes Kavanaugh should become a Supreme Court justice. The 98-year-old Stevens expressed his view to a packed room at a Unitarian Universalist church in Boca Raton, Florida.

“I thought he had the qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court and should be confirmed if he was ever selected, but I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability or his record as a federal judge,” Stevens said. “He’s a fine federal judge and should [have] been confirmed, [but] his performance during the hearings changed my mind.”

Stevens said he agreed with news and legal commentators who have suggested that Kavanaugh had demonstrated potential bias and alienated too many people who might come before the court, such that “he would not be able to perform his full responsibilities. I think there’s merit in that criticism … Senators should really pay attention to it for the good of the court.”

Stevens said he was once such a strong admirer of Kavanaugh that “I have a picture of him in my book.” He was referring to his 2014 work, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. In it, Stevens criticizes the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Stevens famously wrote the dissent in that case, an opus that was some 90 pages.

Stevens’ book describes an opinion written by Judge Kavanaugh on the same matter.

“The issue in the case was whether a Canadian citizen and a citizen of Israel living in New York temporarily could make expenditures in elections that were going on at the time,” he told the Boca Raton audience. “Following Citizens United, they brought a proceeding in federal court asking for an injunction against enforcing the statute that prohibits expenditures by foreign citizens in American elections, and Judge Kavanaugh wrote the opinion upholding the statute…. I thought that was a very persuasive opinion. And one of the cases that he cited in that opinion was my dissent on Citizens United, which showed the fact he was a very good judge and had very good taste.”

The event moderator, Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino, asked if there were similarities between the confirmations of Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas, since they are both polarizing figures. Stevens said that, ultimately, there was nothing that would have disqualified Thomas. Stevens added that although he frequently disagreed with Thomas on cases, “As a person, I’m very fond of him. He’s a very decent, likable person. You cannot help but like Clarence Thomas – which I don’t think necessarily would be true of this particular [judge].”

(Audio from the event is attached below)


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