Remembering retired Justice John Paul Stevens

Jul 22, 2019

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens will lie in respose at the Supreme Court Monday, before his funeral Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery. The man who died last week at the age of 99 served 35 years on the nation's highest court. Former Stevens law clerk and University at Buffalo law fellow Nancy Marder will be among those attending his burial.


As the Supreme Court changed around him, Stevens was a central figure, the Navy veteran and longtime antitrust lawyer who was unanimously cofirmed to the court after nomination by President Gerald Ford. Stevens handled hundreds of cases, writing initial opinions himself and then working with other justices and with his own law clerks on final opinions.

Nancy Marder, Chicago-Kent College law professor, director of the Justice John Paul Stevens Jury Center and co-director of the Institute for Law and the Humanities, clerked for Stevens for two terms. Marder said he was a great boss for a young lawyer.

"What Justice Stevens liked so much about the job was that it involved so much learning and a justice never stops learning. I think he loved the challenge of that," said Marder. "Even though you mentioned administrative law cases, he did write probably the most famous administrative law case, Chevron."

That is one of the most argued-over decisions in administrative law, how much deference to be given to a government agency figuring out what the law allows.

Nancy Marder (r) with Chicago-Kent College of Law Justice Stevens Fellow Molly Kordas.
Credit Chicago-Kent College of Law

In an obituary, it was mentioned that at one time, Stevens stepped in when another justice told a female law clerk to pour coffee. Marder said Stevens stopped that.

"Nor did he let the situation keep going," Marder said. "He simply took over the coffee-making responsibilities and that's so in keeping with Justice Stevens' character, making sure that something that's wrong is made right, but doing it in the way that's least embarrassing."

Marder said she remains heavily influence by Stevens as a professor of law, teaching courses like legislation.

"Which in large part is about statutory interpretation," she said, "and many of the cases that I teach are ones that are written by Justice Stevens, whether he's in the majority or the dissent, and I feel like as I'm teaching, I hear his voice, his comments, what he was thinking about, his responses."

Stevens' burial Tuesday will be at a tombstone mentioning his Navy service in World War II, but not his service on the Supreme Court.