1. Justice Stevens is still active. Here are some good stories:
In his early days as a justice, Stevens recalled, Brennan persuaded him to attend the exclusive Gridiron Club dinner put on by Washington journalists. Brennan insisted on loaning Stevens his suit with tails for the occasion.
The problem, Stevens said, was that "Brennan was a good deal heavier than I was." As a result, Stevens worried all evening that the suit "would not protect my dignity." But it all turned out well. Stevens was seated next to the famed dancer and actress Ginger Rogers. "It was one of the best evenings I ever had, and I owe that to Bill Brennan."
As on other occasions since retiring in 2010, Stevens was critical of some of the decisions the court has handed down since he left. Both Snyder v. Phelps and United States v. Alvarez, he said, were too protective of false speech. The Snyder case went in favor of virulent protesters at military funerals, and Alvarez struck down a federal law that made it a crime to falsely claim to have won a military Medal of Honor.
The Alvarez ruling, Stevens said, "sends a terrible message to the youth of our nation and to the general public as well" by announcing a constitutional right to lie.
Neither Snyder nor Alvarez were 5-4 decisions, so the fact that Stevens would have voted differently than his successor Elena Kagan would not have made a difference in the outcome.
Still, Stevens' remarks underscored what a difference a single justice can make, even on a nine-member court. He recounted how, in Harte-Hanks Communications v. Connaughton, a libel decision he authored in 1989, he was first assigned to write a propress majority opinion. When he read the record, however, he changed his mind, deciding it was a rare instance when the press should be held liable for defaming a political candidate. The rest of the court followed Stevens' lead.
The behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the court's long line of libel cases is the focus of a powerful new book that was discussed at the conference. Written by court scholar Steve Wermiel and Lee Levine, partner at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, "The Progeny: Justice William J. Brennan's Fight to Preserve the Legacy of New York Times v. Sullivan" makes it clear that court opinions can be the product of months — and sometimes years — of negotiations and rewrites.