Late Supreme Court Justice Stevens a Champion of Abortion and Gay Rights

News: US News
by Bruce Walker  •  •  July 17, 2019   

Judge evolved into reliable liberal voice for abortion and gay rights

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. ( - Former Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens died July 16 at the age of 99 from complications related to a stroke suffered the day before.

Despite his former conservative credentials, Stevens became one of the most consistently liberal voices on the High Court, where he served for 35 years. Included in his legacy are votes to expand abortion practices; upholding government takings of private property to the explicit benefit of a corporation using eminent domain; and paving the way for the eventual legalization of same-sex marriage.

Abortion violates Catholic natural law theology, while the specific case of eminent domain as applied in the 2005 Kelo v. New London, Connecticut Supreme Court case violated the subsidiarity doctrine as espoused by Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum.

Stevens, a Protestant, earned a reputation early in his Supreme Court tenure as somewhat of a wild card but became a reliable liberal vote by the time he rendered his decision for the majority in the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

That case upheld the 1973 case legalizing abortion nationwide, Roe v. Wade, and unshackled many of that ruling's limitations, including tightening spousal and parental notification requirements as well as clearing the way for expansion of the practice known as partial-birth abortion.

Stevens became a reliable liberal vote by the time he rendered his decision for the majority in the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

Stevens described himself in an interview as "pretty darn conservative." But on the major issues that divided the court — including race, abortion, religion, gay rights, gun rights, the death penalty and the environment — Stevens leaned to the liberal side.

Stevens also wrote some highly controversial opinions. In 2005 he spoke for a 5-4 majority that upheld a Connecticut city's move to seize the homes of several residents, including Susette Kelo, to make way for a redevelopment of its waterfront. Defenders of property rights denounced the decision.

The Advocate, a publication targeted to a homosexual audience, praised Stevens for his support of the gay agenda:

Stevens's first major gay rights case was Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, in which the high court upheld state antisodomy laws in a 5-4 ruling. Stevens was in the minority, and he wrote a "ringing dissent," as a blogger at the Constitutional Accountability Center described it. ...

Stevens stayed on the court long enough to see Bowers v. Hardwick reversed, in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. ...

Stevens also joined the majority in favor of gay rights in 1996's Romer v. Evans, which struck down Amendment 2, a ballot measure approved by Colorado voters that prohibited the state or any of its cities and counties from adopting or enforcing laws that banned antigay discrimination. This was the first pro-gay ruling ever to come from the Supreme Court.

The Advocate continued:

Stevens had retired from the court (he was replaced by Elena Kagan) by the time it ruled for nationwide marriage equality in 2015, but he praised the ruling in a speech to the American Bar Association shortly afterward. "The right to marry — like the right to decide whether to have an abortion or the right to control the education of your children — fits squarely within the category of liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment," he said.

Stevens was nominated to the court by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975 after his previous elevation to a federal judgeship by Richard Nixon. At that time, Stevens was a registered Republican and was known for his work on antitrust issues.

He retired in 2010, and his replacement, Elena Kagan, was appointed by President Barack Obama.

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