It was my privilege to serve as Justice John Paul Stevens’s law clerk during the tumultuous 2000 term, the year the Court inserted itself into the presidential election, halting the recount of votes in Florida’s contested race and handing the presidency to George W. Bush.
Like many other Americans, I was disillusioned by the seemingly lawless nature of the Court’s intervention. That experience was redeemed, however, by the opportunity to observe Justice Stevens at work. In Bush v. Gore and every other case that term, Stevens exercised his duty in a conscientious and principled way. And he did it with a humility that continues to inspire me.
Even after decades on the highest court, Stevens remained a lawyer’s lawyer. He wrote the first drafts of all his opinions—a task most justices delegate to their clerks—and he seemed to revel in the subtleties of each case with a litigator’s glee. He devoted a lot of time and attention to the “fact” section of his opinions. When working on a case, he would wander into the clerks’ office toward the end of the day to talk. An avid sports fan, he would frequently begin these conversations with some discussion of the latest Redskins debacle or his fantasy golf league. But then he would steer the subject toward the cases at hand, bouncing legal theories off the clerks or marveling at some new factual detail he had discovered in the record.
Although commentators frequently referred to Stevens as the Court’s most...