Bow ties, kind words for departing justice
Stevens retiring with third-longest tenure on court
WASHINGTON — Bow-tie-wearing lawyers and spectators dotted the US Supreme Court chamber yesterday, a farewell nod to Justice John Paul Stevens and his signature neckwear.
Stevens, 90, officially retires today, the first day of the Supreme Court’s summer recess.
“If I have overstayed my welcome, it is because this is such a unique and wonderful job,’’ said Stevens, the court’s third-longest serving justice.
At the conclusion of the court’s session yesterday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. read a letter to Stevens from his colleagues and the court’s two retired justices. Roberts noted that his 34 years on the bench meant Stevens had served on the Supreme Court for “nearly one-sixth of its existence.’’
Roberts said the members of the court would miss his wisdom, perceptive insights, and “vast life experience.’’
“Justice Stevens, we will allow you time for rebuttal,’’ Roberts said after finishing the letter, a comment that drew laughter from observers.
Reading his own letter in response, Stevens said that it had been an honor and privilege to serve with the court’s current eight members and 10 of their predecessors. He noted that when he began on the court he would have begun his response letter “Dear brethren,’’ but that with two women now on the court “Dear colleagues’’ was more suitable.
Even as the court was wrapping up its year, hearings for Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nominee to replace Stevens, were beginning in a nearby Senate building.
Stevens, who wore a red bow tie on his last day in court, also read one concurring opinion from the bench in a case about patents, Bilski v. Kappos. He noted that his written opinion was “extremely long’’ but that his statement from the bench would be brief.
His retirement today will mean he has served 34 years, 6 months, and 10 days on the court. Stephen J. Field, a nominee of President Lincoln who served until 1897, served one day longer.
William O. Douglas, who served for 36 years and whom Stevens replaced in 1975, is the longest-serving justice in the court’s history.
The status as the court’s senior member shifts to Justice Antonin Scalia, who joined the bench in 1986.
Also yesterday, Roberts began the court’s session by noting the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s husband. Martin Ginsburg, 78, died Sunday from complications of metastatic cancer. Justice Ginsburg was on the bench for yesterday’s proceedings.