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LOC Opens Personal Papers of Justice John Paul Stevens to Public

Newly opened records that belonged to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens give the public a behind-the-scenes glimpse at his decades on the court, including the tense struggle over the 2000 presidential election and major cases on affirmative action and abortion.

Documents that became available Tuesday show the justices’ strong, personal reactions as they considered Bush v. Gore, with conservatives complaining about the tone of their liberal colleagues’ writings.

They also show Stevens crowing about the court’s 2003 decision upholding affirmative action, which he termed a “great victory.” The current, more conservative court in contrast seems likely to do away with that very decision by early summer.

As a group, the papers reflect a different time on the court, which was more moderate and less divided in the years before Stevens retired in 2010. Today, the court has six conservatives and three liberals. Just last year conservatives won major victories on issues including gun rights and abortion, overturning Roe v. Wade in a momentous decision that gave states the ability to ban abortion after nearly 50 years.

Bush v. Gore, which ended Florida’s presidential recount and sent Republican George W. Bush to the White House over Democrat Al Gore was perhaps the most momentous case during Stevens’ tenure. His papers show that two justices in the majority that ruled for Bush griped privately that the liberal justices’ dissents were overly harsh and would contribute to negative public reaction.

“The dissents, permit me to say, in effect try to coerce the majority by trashing the Court themselves, thereby making their dire, and I think unjustified, predictions a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of the main opinion, wrote in a memo.

Justice Antonin Scalia noted in another memo that he “is the last person to complain” about hard-hitting dissents, having written his fair share. Still, Scalia wrote, “Going home after a long day, I cannot help but observe that those of my colleagues who were protesting so vigorously that the Court’s judgment today will do it irreparable harm have spared no pains — in a blizzard of separate dissents — to assist that result.”

Read entire article at Associated Press