The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years

The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years

A masterful and personal account of life on the Supreme Court that offers a unique understanding of American history from one of the most prominent jurists of our time When Justice John Paul Stevens retired from the Supreme Court of the United States in 2010, he left a legacy of service unequaled in the history of the Court. During his thirty-four-year tenure, Justice Stev...

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Title:The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years
Author:John Paul Stevens
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The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years Reviews

  • Dan Cotter

    This book is a great telling of the amazing life so far of Justice John Paul Stevens. In it, not a word of negativity in it. Also, not a great deal of gossip or personal story telling about fellow justices in here. JPS addresses each year of his 34 on the Supreme Court and some key decisions. For those not SCOTUS junkies, it might be a bit difficult to navigate through and digest, but as has been noted in some other reviews, it is worth it. There are many nuggets of wisdom that today's Supreme C

    This book is a great telling of the amazing life so far of Justice John Paul Stevens. In it, not a word of negativity in it. Also, not a great deal of gossip or personal story telling about fellow justices in here. JPS addresses each year of his 34 on the Supreme Court and some key decisions. For those not SCOTUS junkies, it might be a bit difficult to navigate through and digest, but as has been noted in some other reviews, it is worth it. There are many nuggets of wisdom that today's Supreme Court can glean from Stevens. Worthy addition to the SCOTUS shelves.

  • Matt

    As I mentioned in a recent review of another book, I love discussion of constitutional documents, particularly through the lens of the courts and its interpretation of the document. Discussions of the U.S. Constitution seems easiest for me to access, so I am subjected to a great deal of discussion on this matter, though my native Canadian one is equally captivating. Of even more interest is when a legal memoir surfaces, using one of the key constitutional actors, which discusses many of these co

    As I mentioned in a recent review of another book, I love discussion of constitutional documents, particularly through the lens of the courts and its interpretation of the document. Discussions of the U.S. Constitution seems easiest for me to access, so I am subjected to a great deal of discussion on this matter, though my native Canadian one is equally captivating. Of even more interest is when a legal memoir surfaces, using one of the key constitutional actors, which discusses many of these constitutional interpretations. This piece, a legal/judicial memoir by former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) John Paul Stevens, was stellar in its approach to that subject, as well as tackling some of the author’s biographical information during the first ninety-four years of his life. As of this writing, Justice Stevens is still around, set to turn 99 and still as strong-minded as ever, holding the title of third longer serving justice on SCOTUS. Below are some brief summaries of items found in this tome, whose volume is deceptively long, with well over half being endnotes (a good sign for those who want to learn more).

    Justice Stevens opens the book with some interesting backstory about his life in and around Chicago. He discusses the Stevens ancestry and name in Illinois, showing how the Christian Scientist beliefs of his mother and business sense of his father helped shape him into a well-rounded young man with a thirst to learn. Stevens majored in English before making his way to law school, where he developed a passion for the law, particularly all things anti-trust. Working both in the public and private spheres, Stevens was able to see how the law and its pitfalls worked in a practical sense, ironing out the wrinkles when needed. He mentions his time in the Navy during the Second World War, as a codebreaker, and the excitement he had working to crack the Japanese Army’s transmissions. The reader also learns of his early political dealings, including attending some of the Republican events in and around Chicago, at a time when politicians tended to speak on the issues and not utilise ‘foreign mud’ to sling at others. His legal work brought him to the attention of those in the Nixon Administration and Stevens was given the chance to sit on the bench of the US Court of Appeals, where he developed his passion for hearing cases and writing opinions than would show his attentiveness and eagerness to explore avenues of the law. Stevens discusses some interesting developments that saw him be asked by President Ford to serve as an Associate Justice of SCOTUS, where the fun really began, and much of the tome takes off.

    Stevens tackles his time on the Court in a thorough and yet highly digestible manner. He makes it clear that he was honoured to serve, but also does not hold back in his frank discussion of events. Having served for close to thirty-five years, Stevens has a great deal to say on many topics and uses this soapbox to explore many interesting cases. Stevens tackles some of the interesting aspects of constitutional law throughout his discussions, pertaining especially to personal liberties in the realm of abortion, sexual orientation, free speech, and gender equality. The reader will find many discussions throughout the years on the bench, with many specific cases coming to the forefront. I would be remiss not to mention his swipes at Justice Scalia as they relate to the Second Amendment (gun ownership) throughout the latter portion of the piece, when the topic came back to the Court and had some shocking reinterpretation that favoured a wider interpretation of this controversial part of the constitution. I leave it to the reader to decide how they feel! Stevens also tackles frank commentaries on his fellow Justices—not pulling any punches about how he disagreed with some on their legal views and others on the inability to work effectively on the team—which serves to enrich the read, rather than take away from it. Stevens pulls on the memories of his past legal clerks and offers up detailed discussions of cases, decisions, and even judicial conferences where Justices bantered about the merits of certain legal arguments. His long time on the Court offers readers a rich and very varied view of events over a significant amount of time, as legal standards changed based on the other eight sitting alongside him. Stevens surely made some great friends on the Court, though he never sold out. He was, in my opinion, one of the Justices who looked at the law and not the president who appointed him to make decisions. Many of those on the Court today could take a page out of his book, where each decision drips with ideology that ‘trumps’ what would appear to be central constitutional tenets and precedent by the Court, grounded in strong arguments. Anyone looking for a stellar analysis of the law, particularly from on high need look no further than this piece, which is full of wonderful discussions and frank commentary. I will be looking for his other work to complement my reading of this stellar judicial memoir. Recommended for those with a passion for constitutional discussion and the reader with an interest in legal issues. It is not as long as it looks, as long as the reader is not one to get lost in the minutiae of endnotes and citations.

    There is no doubt that this book will not appeal to everyone, even those who love biographical pieces. Justice Stevens does spend some time giving his background, which includes wonderful stories from his youth and adulthood that will be of much interest to some readers. I was quite enthralled with learning all he had to say, specifically his time in the Navy and the war effort he undertook. Admittedly, there is little talk of his own family, with only passing mention of his first wife and children, and a little more about his current wife. I understand this is a legal memoir, though by adding the backstory from the early chapters, I would have hoped to learn more about his children and any anecdotes of their growing up before Stevens ascended to the bench. Perhaps a ‘first volume’ could have been used to discuss this backstory in more detail, though I cannot critique Stevens for his approach to his own life! Stevens uses the bulk of the book to explore his time on the Court, but chooses to lay things out in an interesting manner. He argues that the Court is less a product of its Chief Justice—the way in which many refer to the Court—and more of the newest Justice that has been appointed. Therefore, he includes chapter titles that refer to the ‘X Court’, where the variable is the newest appointee to SCOTUS. Additionally, he breaks down each annual Court sitting, beginning on the first Monday in October, in which he discusses key cases, rulings, and historical happenings from that period. This juxtaposition of events on an annual basis allows the reader to better see the influences of events and how cases developed over the years, based on the actors involved. While the early chapters are quite short, these latter section breaks are much longer and more detailed, something legal keeners such as myself are sure to enjoy. Stevens offers up so much information that even the more dedicated constitutional fan will likely need to take a breather from time to time. The narrative does, at times, get a little technical and ‘deep’, but when it comes to discussing Court decisions, it is sometimes hard to water things down too much, with the specifics under exploration. Overall, this is surely one of the better memoirs I have read in a long time, specifically due to its frank and detailed (in the latter portion) nature.

    Kudos, Justice Stevens, for a stellar memoir that held my attention throughout. I did learn a great deal over your decades on the Court and am eager to ready your other publications to learn a little more.

    Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

    A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

  • Trish

    Justice John Paul Stevens appears to me to be one of those old-timey conservatives, the kind whose judgment I may not agree with but whose opinions I can respect. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen such clear thinking on the part of anyone who calls themselves Republican.

    Stevens served on the Supreme Court thirty-four years, from 1975-2010. He did an awful lot of deciding in all that time; what I notice most is that these decisions, or at least the ones he discusses in detail, are ones that made

    Justice John Paul Stevens appears to me to be one of those old-timey conservatives, the kind whose judgment I may not agree with but whose opinions I can respect. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen such clear thinking on the part of anyone who calls themselves Republican.

    Stevens served on the Supreme Court thirty-four years, from 1975-2010. He did an awful lot of deciding in all that time; what I notice most is that these decisions, or at least the ones he discusses in detail, are ones that made a big difference in the life of ordinary Americans. We all knew the Supreme Court was important, but how quickly the perception of partisanship has begun to erode their power.

    Stevens names time periods in the court for the newest member because that individual alters the balance of power. He discusses important decisions each new justice has authored that might be considered to define that justice’s body of work and places his own assents or dissents beside them.

    One of the earliest discussions he wades into is the abortion debate. Stevens was seated two years after

    v.

    and says at the time the decision had no appearance of being controversial.

    Just so.

    The 2003 case involving a challenge to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s 2002 congressional districting map,

    v.

    , is close to my heart. Hearing Stevens articulate why deciding partisan gerrymanders are not a heavy lift gives succor to like-minded in light of the devastation of a final refusal by SCOTUS to hear any more such cases.

    Why is it any more difficult than deciding a racial gerrymander, he asks. Why can’t the Court stipulate every district boundary have a neutral justification? There are no lack of judicially manageable standards; there is a lack “judicial will to condemn even the most blatant violations of a state legislature’s fundamental duty to govern impartially.”

    Stevens remained puzzled by his failure to convince his colleagues on the Court of his argument, an early echo of Justice Kagan’s distress this year that the blatant partisanship of the Court has broken out into the open and split the harmony with which they argued for so many years.

    Stevens does not leave out decisions he wrote that were disliked by the country. Time never disguised the ugly truth that in

    v.

    , a multinational pharmaceutical corporation looking around for a new development used the notion of eminent domain to take the homes of two long-time residents of New London, and then, within five years, closed up shop and left town. “…the

    majority opinion was rightly consistent with the Supreme Court’s precedent and the Constitution’s text and structure [but] Whether the decision represented sound policy is another matter.”

    After the

    decision with which he disagreed, Stevens tendered his resignation.

    By hardly ever mentioning fellow Justice Sam Alito Stevens shows his animus. After this decision, Stevens describes Alito sitting in the audience during Obama’s State of the Union. When Obama mentioned that the decision allows foreign corporations to have a say in American elections, Stevens writes Alito “incorrectly” mouthed the words: “Not true.”

    He revisits Alito’s record later, when he is wrapping up, to point out “especially striking” disagreements he had with him over interpretation of the Second Amendment. “

    is unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Court announced during my tenure on the bench,” he says. [Alito] failed to appreciate the more limited relationship between gun ownership and liberty. Firearms, Stevens argues, “have a fundamentally ambivalent relationship to liberty.”

    It probably wasn’t the

    decision itself that brought the Stevens reign to an end; he may have had a small stroke after the pressures of that January decision and then playing a game a tennis. He was replaced by Elena Kagan, with whom he has professed to be delighted. Stevens didn’t so much change as a large portion of the country who once, and still do, call themselves Republicans moved to the right. Stevens never did and he was right where we needed him for thirty-four years.

  • Lorna

    was a lovely book. This beautiful man, Justice John Paul Stevens, has witnessed so much American history as he sat on the United States Supreme Court for thirty-four years as one of our most beloved jurists. Justice Stevens was appointed to the court by President Gerald Ford and resigned during President Barack Obama's first term in office.

    Justice Stevens chose to organize his memoir of his time on the Supreme Court according to a saying

    was a lovely book. This beautiful man, Justice John Paul Stevens, has witnessed so much American history as he sat on the United States Supreme Court for thirty-four years as one of our most beloved jurists. Justice Stevens was appointed to the court by President Gerald Ford and resigned during President Barack Obama's first term in office.

    Justice Stevens chose to organize his memoir of his time on the Supreme Court according to a saying by Justice Byron White, that each time a justice joins the Court, it creates a new dynamic and a different institution, a new Court. Within that premise, Justice Stevens reflects on his thirty-four years as an associate justice, discussing notable cases and reflections of each of those eleven Courts of his tenure, i.e., the Stevens court; the O'Connor court; the Scalia court; the Kennedy court; the Souter court; the Thomas court; the Ginsburg court, the Breyer court; the Roberts and Alito courts; the Sotomayor court; and the Kagan court. I must say that I loved his personal connections to all of this history and his views on some controversial decisions of the Supreme Court. In the shadow of cases like

    and the infamous

    decision, Justice Stevens gives a lot of insight. At the end of the day, I must thank the Justice for his service and say that his measured voice is missed. Besides, a photograph with his bow tie and lovely smile, and I am comforted.

  • Jean

    John Paul Stevens (1920---) was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) in 1975. In his many years on the Court, Justice Stevens transcended the party ideology to work on issues with all the Justices. Justice Stevens tells of his early life, but the majority of the book is about key issues ruled on by the Court over the past thirty-five years. He includes legal cases he voted for or dissented on. The newest Justice on the Court in this book is Elena Kagan who replaced John P

    John Paul Stevens (1920---) was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006) in 1975. In his many years on the Court, Justice Stevens transcended the party ideology to work on issues with all the Justices. Justice Stevens tells of his early life, but the majority of the book is about key issues ruled on by the Court over the past thirty-five years. He includes legal cases he voted for or dissented on. The newest Justice on the Court in this book is Elena Kagan who replaced John Paul Stevens. Stevens spoke very highly of Kagan.

    The book is well written and researched. I have been fascinated by the Supreme Court for a number of years. I found the personal information about the history and his views on various controversial decisions of the Count most interesting. I noted Justice Stevens did not pull his punches regarding Justices Scalia and Thomas regarding originalism and textualism. He also discussed his various friendships on the Court. Justice Stevens did not speak down to the layman. As Justice Stevens is ninety-nine years old, this most likely will be his last book.

    I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is eighteen hours and thirty-one minutes. Robert Petkoff did a good job narrating the book. Petkoff is an actor/signer and a voice-over artist as well as an audiobook narrator. He was nominated for a Tony Award.

  • Linda Smatzny

    Perfect for lawyers and people interested in the Supreme Court. The book contains pictures. Forgot to mention when this was posted earlier that I received this book for free from the Goodreads First Reads program.

  • Dustin

    Overall, I’m glad I read this. But it was a slog! Early on, he mentioned including several details and stories in part because he thought close friends and grandchildren might enjoy them. While I understand the temptation, as I am not a Supreme Court or John Paul Stevens superfan, not everything landed with me. If you’ve been following the Supreme Court since 1975 and want lots of details from Stevens’ perspective, this is for you. If you’re only moderately interested, I’d spend your time elsewh

    Overall, I’m glad I read this. But it was a slog! Early on, he mentioned including several details and stories in part because he thought close friends and grandchildren might enjoy them. While I understand the temptation, as I am not a Supreme Court or John Paul Stevens superfan, not everything landed with me. If you’ve been following the Supreme Court since 1975 and want lots of details from Stevens’ perspective, this is for you. If you’re only moderately interested, I’d spend your time elsewhere.

    I especially appreciated Stevens’ perspective on the death penalty (wanting to abolish the practice) and positions on various abortion cases. Also nice to hear about friendships across ideological divides. Voting nemesis but close friend Antonin Scalia plays a large role.

    Stevens falls into the trap of repeating “greatest,” “worst,” “most important,” etc. in reference to court cases he was a part of. It seems more thorough editing would have cleaned that up.

  • Peter Z.

    I've read many of his opinions. If this book is even twice as good as those, it will still be great enough to line the bird cage.

  • Grace Hoffmann

    I rarely skim and never give up once I've started, but I clearly didn't understand what I was getting into with this book. I am interested in Justice Stevens because I am a lawyer and we attended the same law school, and he is about my dad's age. So I was interested to know more about his life. That is not what this book is about. It is a laundry list of important cases, term by term (!) from his long tenure on the Supreme Court. Including his after the fact criticisms of the majority decisions

    I rarely skim and never give up once I've started, but I clearly didn't understand what I was getting into with this book. I am interested in Justice Stevens because I am a lawyer and we attended the same law school, and he is about my dad's age. So I was interested to know more about his life. That is not what this book is about. It is a laundry list of important cases, term by term (!) from his long tenure on the Supreme Court. Including his after the fact criticisms of the majority decisions and promoting his own many dissents (and then telling us when they were cited in later decisions). I guess if you were super interested in Supreme Court jurisprudence, you might enjoy this book, but I found it a very long slog. Particularly annoying was his revisitation of Bush v Gore. His personality does come through, I guess. His account of his early life and war time service was very interesting! I wish he'd written more about his actual life and less about the (many) cases that didn't go his way.

  • Tomi

    This book started out interesting but as soon as Justice Stevens started talking about law, I got lost. I think you have to be a lawyer to understand his description of the cases and his opinions on them. I won this book on Goodreads in exchange for an honest review - I'm sorry, but I am just not legal-minded enough for it.

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