The one-two combination of Justice John Paul Stevens’ impending retirement and his recent angry dissent in the much-ballyhooed free speech case Citizens United v. F.E.C. has created an aura of fond remembrance around the geriatric justice. Exhibit A is Jeffrey Toobin’s long and very interesting New Yorker profile of Stevens, which features the plaintive subtitle, “What will the Supreme Court be like without its liberal leader?”
At the risk of spoiling all the lovely tributes going on, I’d like to suggest that Stevens’ new fans check out his majority opinion in a case that Toobin failed to mention: Kelo v. City of New London, the 2005 decision where Stevens and his most liberal colleagues (plus the "modestly libertarian" Justice Anthony Kennedy) upheld the government’s ability to seize private property via eminent domain and then hand the land over to another private party in order to widen the tax base. I’ve heard a lot recently about how Stevens stood up for “We the People” against the evil corporations in Citizens United, but what about the people who were literally forced out of their homes in New London, Connecticut, so the municipal government could clear their neighborhood and hand it over to a private developer? And let’s not forget why the developer wanted that land in the first place: The pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer had built a new research and development center on the adjacent land and the developer wanted to build a fancy new hotel, apartment buildings, and office towers to complement the Pfizer facility, something Justice John Paul Stevens was more than happy to oblige. That’s what I’d call a pro-corporate decision.