Five Chiefs

John Paul Stevens

John Paul Stevens’ memoir recalls his experiences and opinions of his fellow justices during his 35-year tenure on the United States Supreme Court. Though credited as a consensus-maker, Stevens dissented on numerous conservative decisions, most notably Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The former he dismissed as a “frivolous stay application”; the latter as “rhetorical flourish and colorful argument.” While saying that the court was “a place where we not only could but regularly did disagree without being disagreeable,” Stevens is not above putting fellow justices (and the White House) on blast: “Like the gold stripes on his robes, Chief Justice Rehnquist’s writing about sovereignty was ostentatious and more reflective of the ancient British monarchy than our modern republic.” Stevens also boycotted the swearing-in ceremonies for four fellow justices that were held at the White House instead of the court, and notes that political remarks tossed off by various presidents were often “offensive and inappropriate.” After years of legal writing, it’s not surprising some of Stevens’ book is a bit dry. But he does provide numerous interesting anecdotes, such as his one about why court employees are not allowed to shoot hoops in the gym above the court while it is in session.