With a record 720 dissenting opinions to his credit, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens joked that he should be given “a lifetime failure award.”
At last night’s Public Citizen’s 2013 Gala, Stevens was the recipient of the Public Citizen Lifetime Achievement Award at the Ronald Reagan Building.
“Justice Stevens is a rock star in this crowd,” said Linda Greenhouse, the Joseph Goldstein Lecturer at Yale Law School, referring to the 93-year-old, sporting his trademark bowtie.
“And he’s a Midwestern boy,” said Congressman Bruce Braley, Iowa Democrat, after ticking off the Chicago native’s superlatives.
Braley was joined by his colleague Congressman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and another long-time admirer of the judge.
Stevens was honored by Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog organization founded by Ralph Nader, for his dissent in 2010’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which he argued that corporations should not be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign contributions.
“Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it,” he wrote, much to Public Citizen’s approval.
Talk-show host Phil Donahue was the first Public Citizen honoree in 2010. Last night he sat with Sidney Wolfe, a physician and the co-founder and director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, and Wolfe’s wife Suzanne Goldberg, a psychologist.
Donahue said he would most like to interview Justice Clarence Thomas or Justice Antonin Scalia, calling them some of “the most fascinating judicial figures.”
After the chicken-and-risotto dinner, Stevens was questioned by Greenhouse about his career and post-Court life.
He said he reads every opinion handed down by his former colleagues, as well as non-fiction favorites like Charles Lane’s “The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction.”
As for Chief Justice John Roberts, they agree to disagree. “He’s intellectually honest,” Stevens said.
Stevens inspired laughter and bitter memories when he reflected on his dissent in Bush v. Gore and the difference between hanging and dimpled chads.
The gala ended with peach tarts served with ice cream while the Sage String Quartet played “Moon River.”
Other guests included Robert Weissman, Public Citizen’s president, and Laura Handman, a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include New York and London weekend guides, Farah Nayeri on film, Lewis Lapham on history, Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.