LAMB: Justice John Paul Stevens, you have a book that’s called ”A Supreme Court Memoir” but it’s called ”Five Chiefs.” Why?
STEVENS: Well, because it’s a book about the Chief Justices of the United States. And the reason I’ve written about five is that I’ve had personal contact with five of–the most recent five chiefs. So I’ve just–they’re the five to whom the tale refers.
LAMB: Let me put on the screen a slide that shows these five names and the times that they were serving on the court. And it starts with Fred Vinson–
LAMB: –who was nominated by President Truman. He served seven years. Earl Warren, by President Eisenhower, served 15.5 years. Warren Burger, about 17 years, appointed by Richard Nixon. William Rhenquist by President Reagan, 19 years. And John Roberts, who’s the current Chief Justice, by President George Walker Bush, six years. Start with Fred Vinson. What did you write about him?
STEVENS: Well, there are two parts of it, I guess. I haven’t taken a second look at it recently, as I mentioned to you. But there’s a discussion of his appointment, a little bit about his appointment and about his work partly through the observations of one of his former law clerks, Arthur Seder, who was a classmate of mine in law school, and remains a very good friend. As a matter of fact, we were born on the same day. So that we have a lot of reasons to be friends.
But talking to Art saved me some things I thought would be of interest in the book. So I got–that’s one source. And a second source is my own experience the year ahead of Art’s clerkship, when I was clerking for Justice Rutledge. And I had a few chances to come in contact with Chief Justice Vinson during that period. And so, I’ve talked to in the book a little bit about the things that I had personal contact with. And perhaps at a little greater length, about some of the opinions he wrote, particularly in the year that I had–I was clerking at the court.
LAMB: What year did you clerk at the court?
STEVENS: I clerked on the October 1947 term. And others from–I went to work and I think some time in September of ’47. And I was there until I guess June–the end of June and early July of ’48.
LAMB: That year or so you were there, what did you take away from it?
STEVENS: Oh, I took away a lot. That’s a wonderful experience, as other former law clerks can tell you, I don’t cover all this in the book, of course, but I took away some wonderful friendships with clerks in other chambers. And I learned an awful lot about the law and about the working of the Supreme Court, things that are still pretty much the same, as well as things that have changed over the years. And so it was a very rewarding professional experience.
LAMB: How did you get that clerkship?
STEVENS: Well, that’s kind of a long story, too. The Congress authorized a second clerkship for members of the Court in the summer of 1947, if I remember it correctly. And Justice Rutledge decided to hire a second clerk. And he was approached by two members of the faculty at Northwestern, Willard Wirtz, who later became Secretary of Labor, and Willard Pedric, who has clerked for Vinson when he was a Court of Appeals judge. And they were persuaded, both Vinson and Rutledge , to take advantage of the opportunity to hire a new clerk pursuant to the statute. And they persuaded them two Northwestern graduates would be well qualified for those positions.
And the two that were qualified were my good friend Art Seder and I, who had pretty good grades at Northwestern. And they thought that both of us were qualified. And so, they late in the spring or I guess it was early summer of ’47, they had a meeting with us in the law review office in Northwestern, and told us that they thought these two clerkships were pretty certainly available. And said they weren’t sure which ones should go for which job, and suggested they’d like us to make that decision.
And as it turned out, the clerkship with Rutledge was available the following year, whereas the additional clerkship with Vinson was available the year after that, and was a two year requirement. Whereas the Rutledge one was just necessarily a one year requirement.
And Art and I both felt we were ancient citizens, because we’d had experience in the war, and were older than we thought other, you know, other law graduates might have been before the war. And we’re both anxious to get into professional work as soon as we could. So we both preferred the Rutledge clerkship, even though the Chief Justice clerkship sounds like it might have been a better job.
So we settled it by flipping a coin. And I won the coin flip, and, you know, had the privilege of getting started with Justice Rutledge after the–after we’d done the coin flipping and decisions, we still had to get the job, because we really–it just was a question what we’d apply for. But both Professor Wirtz and Professor Pedric and other members of the faculty supported our applications, I guess, persuaded the justices that we were indeed qualified.
LAMB: Now did Willard–did you have Willard Wirtz in class?
STEVENS: Yes. Yeah, he was the–I took Labor Law from him.
LAMB: Your friend Art Seder, is he still alive?
STEVENS: Yes, yes.
LAMB: Now I got to ask, you know, I mean, you’ve lived a long time.
LAMB: 91 years?
STEVENS: Yes, and a little more. And maybe already mentioned, Art, and I were born on the same day. It’s a very strange coincidence.
LAMB: What have you two done that’s kept you alive all these years?
STEVENS: Well, we’ve worked hard. We’ve exercised. And we had good advice from our respective spouses. And we’ve had interesting lives and happy lives. That makes the big difference, too.
LAMB: Where’s he live now?
STEVENS: He’s in Charlottesville, Virginia right now.
LAMB: Go back to Fred Vinson. What do you remember from about Fred Vinson? Was he a big man? Where did he come from? How did he get on the Court as Chief Justice?
STEVENS: Well, he was not a big man. He was heavy. He was a heavy man. In fact, that’s one of the incidents I think I worked into the book that on occasion, when his messenger, who would usually drive him to work and back to the hotel where he lived, the–I can’t think of the name of it right now.
LAMB: Did he live at the Wardman ?
STEVENS: Wardman, yeah, the Wardman Park. I would occasionally have to drive him home in his beat up old Ford car that was several years old. And Vinson had a little trouble getting in and out of the car, cause he was heavy. And he remembered driving up to the Wardman Park. And the door man seeing his car, wanting to shoo him away. And until he saw that the Chief Justice was in the front seat. And then, he’d greet them much more–in a much more cordial way. And then, Vinson would with some difficulty get out of the car. And he’d go home.
LAMB: He was there seven years as Chief. Do you remember what significant impact he had on the Court and either how it ran or?
STEVENS: Well, you know, as far as I could tell, it ran well. There was a–there was some feeling, I think, in the year or two before I got there, and before Art got there, that there was some friction within the Court, particularly that Jackson was concerned that he didn’t become chief himself. And there was some feeling that there might have been some antagonism between Jackson on the one hand and Hugo Black on the other.
I never actually witnessed anything like that, but there’s been a lot of writing about it. And I think there’s some merit to it. I mention it because there was, as I say, there was this sense there might be some personal antagonism within the Court at the time. But when I got down there, I found it entirely different. I remember at a 7th Circuit conference in–some time in around 1970 or so, Thurgood Marshall came to the–to Chicago. And in answering questions from the audience, he was asked about possible antagonism within the Court. And he said no, we’re all perfectly good friends. There’s none of that. And I remember thinking to myself, well, that’s for public consumption. Then maybe it’s not true.
And so, when I went and joined the Court myself in 1975, I was sort of wondering whether the Thurgood story was accurate or not. And it was dead accurate. I should have known, but I mean, Thurgood is a very honorable person. In fact, one of the most trustworthy men I ever met.
And it turned out to be true. I mean, when I got down there, it was a very–the personal relationships are really excellent. And that was true during my entire tenure.
LAMB: What impact did Chief Justice Vinson have on Brown versus the Board of Education?
STEVENS: Well, of course, he was the Chief while the case was–during the first arguments of the case and during the early deliberations. But he died before the Court was able to decide it. So it’s a little difficult to know exactly what his whole role in the decisional process was. But I think he was the Chief when they ordered re-argument. And they ordered the lawyers to make rather extensive arguments on historical issues. They had this–quite a lot of briefing about the history of the 14th Amendment and what the attitude of the sponsors of the Amendment were.
And so, he was–and a lot of that, I think, was suggested by Justice Frankfurter. And so I don’t know just, you know, who had what role in that–as those deliberations developed. But after Earl Warren became Chief, then they had an additional argument. And that’s when it was decided. And it was decided in an opinion that really had very little to do with history.
LAMB: I want to put on the screen some other statistics and ask you a question. When you retired from the Court, I really wanted to ask you, I saw these numbers. Let’s put ’em up there. It’s–these are the longest serving Justices in history. There are 112 Justices. William O. Douglas served the longest, over 36 years. Steven Johnson Fields served 12,614 days. You served 12,611 days. You were three days short of being the second longest serving justice in history. Did you know that?
STEVENS: I really didn’t. I know people often ask me questions about whether I was trying to set a record or anything like that. And I really didn’t particularly want to be remembered for the length of my service. It’s–and I never really paid much attention to it, because that’s not necessarily a testament to the quality of your service or it’s importance.
And so, I didn’t, but I was interested to learn later that I was close to Field. And I’ve also been told or read somewhere that he really shouldn’t get that many days because for the last several months of his service, he was either sick or he wasn’t able to participate in their work. So I think I may have even performed more time of active constructive service on the court then he did.
LAMB: Well, we all I mean, people that watch the Court all thought you’d outdo William O. Douglas and become the number one serving justice?
STEVENS: Well, that would be, of course, I succeeded him, which is–and he had served much longer than I did, I think. I mean, I don’t–
LAMB: He sat about over 700 days longer.
STEVENS: Yeah, that’s a couple of years.
LAMB: What–when did you retire from the Court?
STEVENS: Well, it was on the last–the day after the last day of the–not this last term, but the term before that?
LAMB: 2010, so then–
STEVENS: 2010, right.
LAMB: –around June or July?
LAMB: Yeah. The next justice that you write about is Earl Warren. And before I get you to talk about him some, let’s watch just a–this is a 1952 clip of him on the Longines Wittnauer program that used to run on television, black and white. Listen to what - he was the governor of California then. Listen to what he has to say about the world in 1952.
Earl Warren: I don’t believe that we can continue to travel the road to insolvency by piling up a national debt year after year in time of peace. There’s always a day of reckoning. And I believe that we have to do that. I believe that we can, and that we must restore integrity in government, and the confidence of people in the integrity of their government.
STEVENS: Well, he was a member of the Tea Party.
Yeah. Does–he was a Republican governor of the state of California, and was appointed by General Eisenhower to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. What do you remember about him? And when did you first meet him?
STEVENS: Well, my memories of him go back long before I first met him. And I really–I never had the kind of informal meeting with him that I had with the others that I mentioned. My first personal contact with him was the day I presented an oral argument to the Supreme Court, which I still remember vividly, because even though I had witnessed a lot of arguments as a law clerk and as a practicing lawyer over the years, when I got up to argue this case involving Robinson-Patman Act, an issue that nobody would care about today, there he was. He’s much closer than you appear to me now. I had the feeling that there he was right in front of me. And I said I have this vivid memory of being that close to the Chief Justice of the United States, which is an experience you don’t forget. And as a matter of fact, I think I may have mentioned this in the book. I’ve talked about this with John Roberts and with Ruth Ginsberg and with Elena Kagan. And they all have this remember the same sort of sensation at their first argument. And it’s really a very memorable event in–
LAMB: What happened to the case you were arguing? Did you win?
STEVENS: No, I lost. I lost. And it was–it’s not an earth shaking case, but they did decide a question of statutory construction on the–under the cost justification defense under the Robinson-Patman Act.
LAMB: Now you served 34 some years on the Court. What’s it been like for you since you left? What–I mean, and why did you write the book?
STEVENS: Well, it’s kind of a story, sort of grew by itself. When I left the Court, I was invited to attend a fairly large number of informal sessions, where I talked to smaller groups like the Rotary and groups in Arlington and elsewhere. And I was repeatedly asked. And one of the questions that I always got was that you served with three Chiefs Justice. Tell us a little bit about how they were alike and how they differed?
And it just stuck. It made–people seemed to be interested in the possible differences between different Chiefs. And then I thought–thinking back further, I thought, well, actually, I’ve had some contact, not as intensive, with five. And the idea came to me that there might be a fair amount of interest in talking about the Chiefs. And in fact, I remember talking to John Roberts about the same time, and saying to him that I thought the public did not have a full understanding of all the work the Chief does. He has a fair number of additional responsibilities. And I thought it might be of interest to tell a little bit about some of the things the Chief does that are different from what the other members of the Court do.
And also, the other side of the coin was that I wanted to make the point that when we are deciding the merits of cases, which is, of course, the most important thing we do, the nine of us really are all equal. The Chief has certain procedural responsibilities, but when you’re actually voting on the outcome of the case, he’s just one of nine.
So the two, the–both the interests in letting people know a little more about other work of the Chief, as well as making the point that as an associate justice, I considered myself as equal on our most important work, back up both of those thoughts, merited sort of a discussion.
And then as I got into writing it, different ideas came to me. And I–as I may have mentioned in other occasions, I enjoy writing. I like the write–work of writing opinions while I was a justice. And so, I–this was just kind of replaced. A lot of that work that what I was doing as an active judge.
And so, they grew like–well, I should say that I also have a section in there about the first 12 Chiefs who became–just as a background. And that was suggested by actually by my agent on the book suggested that would be helpful. And so, I wrote that after, pretty much after the other parts of the book were put together. And that is not a study in-depth about the earlier Chiefs, but sort of something to get the people who are not as familiar with the Court as some scholars and some of the rest of us are, give them a little background that I thought might be of interest.
LAMB: What impact did Earl Warren’s 15.5 years as Chief have on the country?
STEVENS: Well, it had a tremendous impact. Of course, I think the most important case is Brown against the Board of Education, which he’s famous for in – I think he may well be responsible for producing a unanimous opinion but as I suggest in the book, I don’t’ think the unanimity of the opinion is as important as the result itself and I don’t think it would have been the end of the world if there had been ascending opinions expressing views that were fairly prevalent in society at the time and so I’ve never been one who thought unanimity was an absolute requirement.
And often, as I suggest in the book, dissents will actually sometimes improve the quality of opinions because everyone knows, then, what arguments were considered and what the answers are to specific arguments. So, I have never been one who thought that the unanimous character was the major achievement. The major achievement was the result itself which, I think, was obviously quite clearly correct and interestingly about that case, I think the decision is not the product of the history and all of the historical research that Justices Vinson and Franfurter had requested because I think a lot of that history suggests that the people who adopted and ratified the 14th Amendment did not anticipate or realize that it might put an end to segregated schools.
I think the principle adopted required that result but I’m not sure as a matter of original intent if you look at that term that that – this is a case in which there is a – the original – the actual intent of the draftsman is the same as the result that they produced.
LAMB: You were appointed in ’75 by Gerald Ford.
LAMB: You served under Warren Burger.
STEVENS: Yes And that’s one of the points of the book…
LAMB: I know. Yes. I’m sorry. I made the mistake. You don’t serve under anybody.
STEVENS: That’s exactly right.
LAMB: Let me – let me go to the clip of Warren Burger.
STEVENS: Everybody says that and it’s perfectly OK.
LAMB: Served with him.
LAMB: Let me show the – we did an interview and matter of fact, you talk about when he was Chairman of the Bicentennial Commission of the Constitution and we did an interview with him during that time.
Here’s a little clip so people who have not seen Warren Burger can see what he looks like.
BURGER: We have, give or take, 1,500 in the federal judiciary including magistrates and bankruptcy judges. There very nearly 1,000 life tenure Article Three judges now. Now, they are there because we need them and we need more. And the Congress is constantly expanding federal jurisdiction so we have to have more machinery to take care of it.
LAMB: What was it like serving with the Chief Justice Warren Burger?
STEVENS: Well, there are, of course, all sorts of aspects of it. He’s a very likable man and he was judged by others sometimes as being a little pompous and more regal than he might have been but he was a good presiding officer. He’s a very gracious public – he handled – he handled public affairs very well. I – and the internal deliberations of the court, I think he was less competent than either of his two successors, to be frank with you.
He did many, many fine things but I don’t think he handled the conferences as well as either Bill Rehnquist or John Roberts did. And I don’t think he was as accurate in the assignment of opinions as he might have been I think at times, he assigned opinions to the members of the court who didn’t actually have the votes of five – four other colleagues on every issue in the case.
So, he was less than perfect on his work as a presiding officer in chamber – in conference. But I think he was an excellent presiding officer in the – in the public proceedings. I think he was very fair to both sides and when there was the necessity for more time to make arguments, he would – he would certainly allow a little extra time in argument.
LAMB: The part of the court that the public knows very little about is the conference.
LAMB: Where is the conference room? And who’s in there when you’re discussing a case?
STEVENS: The conference room is just east of the court room across the hall and back in the back of the building and the people in the conference room during the conference are the nine members of the court and no one else.
In fact, the – whenever it’s necessary for somebody to send a message into the court, they’ll knock on the door and the junior justice has the responsibility of getting up and answering the door and as Tom Clark used to say that he’s the highest paid door man in the country. That’s one of – one of your qualifications when you get there.
And as I think, I don’t remember if I put this in the book but I remember my first – well, either my first or second conference, I was paying very close attention to the discussion, as I remember it, and I failed to hear the knock on the door. And Billy Brennan on my left and Bill Rehnquist on my right both got up and answered the door. And it made me feel like I was about two feet high and I learned from that that the – one of the most important jobs of the junior justice is to remember that you’re a door man
LAMB: One of the things that you do discuss in your book is the difference being in a conference run by Warren Burger or Bill Rehnquist or John Roberts.
LAMB: Can you explain the differences in how Warren Burger changed what happened in the court about how you participate?
STEVENS: Well, the change that I think he’s responsible for, but I can’t testify from personal knowledge or actual (inaudible) but I’m quite sure that the change was the change in the order of voting that he made that – when I was a law clerk under Wiley Rutledge, he would talk about what happened in conference with his law clerks afterwards.
And he explained that the case would be discussed with the chief justice describing the case and then the justices talking about the case in order of seniority explaining their general views of the case and so forth until they went to the end of the line.
But then the voting began with the junior justice and was followed in reverse order. And I know that was a practice in – when Rutledge was on the court when I was a law clerk he’d show us his notes about how then and he was the second to vote. Burton was the most junior justice.
And when I got there, I was surprised to find that the Chief not only discussed the case case but also voted. And that’s what happened. The order of voting was in order of seniority and I can remember talking to Bill Rehnquist from time to time because he was the second junior. The two of us sat next to one another and we both exchanged the view that it was – we preferred the earlier practice because it gave the junior justice, we felt it would give the junior justice a better opportunity to persuade our seniors if they had not committed themselves to a particular position.
But then when he became Chief, his views on that issue changed and he went along with the other view.
LAMB: Explain the difference between being Chief Justice, what their responsibility is and an associate justice.
STEVENS: Well it’s an – it’s a – the Chief has, I say, has the responsibility – he doesn’t have to do it he could just vote right away. But he states the case and what he thinks is the controlling issues that need to be decided are before he explains how he – how he – how he would vote.
So, part of his role is the setting forth the basis for further discussion. And as I think I say in the book but it’s my memory in any event, Warren Burger was not as articulate and as skillful in explaining – in setting forth the issues in a concise and unbiased manner as either of his successors were.
And often, when Warren was the Chief, either Bill Brennan and sometimes Potter Stewart was particularly articulate. Potter Stewart was a really brilliant lawyer, would state the case all over again. And he would state the issues in a more neutral fashion and then the discussion would proceed.
But as I say, that’s one of the things in which I think Burger was less skillful than some of the others. And I don’t mean to suggest to you that he wasn’t a good lawyer. He was – Warren Burger was a very good lawyer and argued cases in the court and had been head of one of the divisions of the Department of Justice after Eisenhower was elected.
LAMB: You say in your book about Warren Burger that although he upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty that he personally was against it.
STEVENS: Definitely. Yes.
LAMB: And so was – who was the other…
STEVENS: Harry Blackmun.
LAMB: Harry Blackmun.
STEVENS: The same way. There’s no doubt about it. On many occasions I heard him in effect say this is not what I think ought to be the case but it’s a – it’s a matter for democratic process to decide and that the role of the judge was to obviously not to put forward his own views but rather to follow what he thought the law was.
LAMB: Did he ever say that publicly?
STEVENS: I would assume he had but I don’t know. I really…
LAMB: And how often have you found that a justice will rule one way or write his opinion one way or join an opinion when he or she disagrees personally?
STEVENS: Oh, very often. Very – every – that’s true of every member of the court on one or more issues.
LAMB: Can you give us an example of when you did that?
STEVENS: It happened many, many times I just don’t have one at the top of my head right now.
LAMB: Well let’s go on to …
STEVENS: Oh, I’ll tell you one. Sure. The California – the case involving the enforcing of the federal narcotics laws against users of medical marijuana in California wanted to grow it on their own premises and the question was whether under the commerce clause if the federal government had the power to enforce that statute.
And I thought it was quite clear as a matter of power the federal government could do just what it was plotting to do but I thought it was a very unwise policy and so that there’s clear mix – mis-match between my policy views and my views of what the law was.
LAMB: You also mention in your book that you and David Souter had an agreement that he would tell you when it was time for you to quit?
STEVENS: That’s exactly right and I think I may explain in the book, I’d had the same agreement with John Hastings on the seventh circuit – was an excellent Chief Judge there but he had asked me to let him know if he thought – if I thought he was not performing – delivering the same quality work as he had in the past.
He, by the way, was also a man who wrote out the first drafts of his own opinions. And I remembered that when I went on the court. And when (David) came, I asked (David) if he would tip me off because it’s something I think every judge who gets on in years – realizes you have to appreciate the views of others on that issue.
You’re not the best judge of your own –
LAMB: Did he ever tip you off?
STEVENS: No, he never did. But that’s one of the things that maybe triggered my retirement. He left before I did, so I didn’t have his protection anymore. So I figured there was a serious breach of contract on his part to resign before I did.
LAMB: You say that you sent a letter down to the White House in advance, telling them that you were going to retire.
LAMB: How much time did you give them?
STEVENS: I don’t remember. It’s all a public matter, I think. I did announce that letter at the same time I sent it. I think that –
LAMB: I don’t remember. But I just wondered –
STEVENS: I think sometime in June.
LAMB: What triggered it, though? When did you – do you remember the moment you said, ”That’s it, I’m getting out”?
STEVENS: Well, it was actually a process. And I was asked this in another interview recently and I think I misspoke about the details. But I began thinking of it more seriously as the years went by. And I think for I don’t know how many years – I think on more than one occasion I may have mentioned to my law clerks that I should be giving thought to that and did they have any suggestions.
And they were very vociferous in trying to persuade me that I should stay whenever I did raise it. And then I became – I guess that was the year David retired. But the year before I did retire, I decided just to hire a one law clerk. And that was publicly known, and so I was obviously seriously considering at that time that that would be my last year.
But when I did that, two of my – I guess three of my, then, law clerks three out of the four of them told me that if I changed my mind, they’d work for me in the following years. So it wasn’t as though I’d made an irreversible decision. But obviously, I was thinking seriously about it.
And then the – I guess the event that really sealed the decision for me was when I had to – well, I didn’t have to – but when I decided to announce my oral dissent in the Citizens United case. For some reason, I had trouble making the oral announcement. I stumbled with some of the presentation, which I felt was unusual.
I had thought I could – was reasonably articulate over the years before. And I became conscious that I didn’t do a very good job on that particular occasion. And I decided then – and I think I may have mentioned it to Steve Breyer that very day and maybe after giving a little thought to putting this to change my career.
LAMB: You still have an office in the court.
STEVENS: I do.
LAMB: Have you sat on any circuit court during cases?
STEVENS: No, I haven’t. And one of the important bits of information about retirement that I learned from Jeff Manier the solicitor to the chief, was that I’m entitled to keep my chambers and my law clerks and my secretary, even if I don’t sit on cases. But if I – if I don’t sit on cases, I will not be qualified for a raise in pay if Congress ever grants a raise in pay, and I’m not, I think, recorded is entitled and deserve better pay, but I’m not really going to lose any sleep over the likelihood that there’ll be a salary increase.
LAMB: Here’s the fourth chief justice, you write about William Rehnquist. He was there for 19 years. Let’s watch just from a – from an interview clip of him.
REHNQUIST: Today, we do have a system called the cert pool, cert standing for certiorari, in which first five, then six, then seven, now eight of the justices pool their law clerks to write memos about the 5,000 petitions for certiorari. That did not exist when I was a law clerk. My co-clerk and I to Justice Jackson divided up 1,200 cases between ourselves and wrote little memos to him in that way. And I think Justice Stevens, who is the clerk not in the cert pool, still operates that way.
LAMB: Was that true? You did not operate as a part of the cert pool?
STEVENS: That is true, and to Bill’s description of it is he is exactly right. And it’s the – you might be interested in knowing that Justice Alito, although he was a member of the first – the cert pool his first year, and I don’t know the second or third, has decided to operate independently so that they’re now – although, there for a while, there were nine members, there are only eight again.
LAMB: That was recorded some years ago, and there were 5,000 cases presented every year. Now there are 9,000.
STEVENS: Is that the number …
LAMB: I think Justice – Chief Justice Roberts says there’s something like 9,000. But have you changed your mind at all about how the cases are decided? I know that you talk in the book about the fact that there used to be a lot more cases argued and that there – and I think it was Justice Burger that reduced the time to 30 minutes on each side.
STEVENS: I think that’s right. That’s right.
LAMB: Because it used to be longer arguments, and you suggest in here that they ought to go back to longer arguments.
STEVENS: I think they should go back to longer arguments on a fair number of cases. I’m not suggesting that they should do it for – on every case, but I think that the – and they’re really for two different reasons. One is, having a smaller docket gives you more time, and you – the time available for an argument is four hours in each argument day. It used to be two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon. And now, they very rarely sit in the afternoon. And so they have the time available for them.
And the second change is that it – particularly in cases with multiple issues that are rather divisive, there’s an awful lot of time taken up with questioning. And I think that more time is taken up in questioning these days than it was when I first joined the quarter when I was a law clerk. And I think so much time is taken up that sometimes the lawyers really don’t get an adequate opportunity to say everything that they plan to say. And so I think that there – it would be – in those cases, more time would be more fair to the lawyers and more helpful to the court. And also, that the whole process would be approved. I don’t think they have to do it in every case.
LAMB: What about Chief Justice Rehnquist? What do you most remember about him?
STEVENS: Oh, well, there’s many, many things that I remember about him. In fact, having watched the Redskins on this Sunday, I think I would have won two bucks from him.
LAMB: You bet on every game.
STEVENS: We bet on virtually every game, actually a dollar. We normally made a dollar bet. It was very serious.
LAMB: Who won the most?
STEVENS: Bill won a good deal more, and I think – I think I tended to let my interest and my desire about who should win influence my vote more than it should have.
LAMB: What impact did he have on the running of the court?
STEVENS: Well, he was a more – I think a more efficient presiding officer, both in the conferences and in the open court as well. I think perhaps he may have been too efficient in the open court. He was very, very firm, and when the red light goes on, the argument’s over. And I think there are times when he might have been wise to give a little more time. But on the whole, he did an excellent job. He was totally impartial. He didn’t – he treated all litigants exactly alike, and they all had to watch the lights.
LAMB: Well, you mention, when you’re talking about that, a man that everybody knows on this network, a Former Senator Arlen Specter, and that he tried to get a couple of words in edgewise when he was in front of the court.
STEVENS: Yes, he was arguing the case, just as representing a client, I can’t remember the details of the case right now, and wanted to continue argument, and – but his time was up, and the chief insisted that the argument was over, and I think Senator Specter had never forgiven him for that.
LAMB: Well, not only does he appear not to have forgiven him, but he also introduced legislation to try to force the court to go on television.
STEVENS: That’s right. He believes very firmly that the court should go on television.
LAMB: What was your reaction to that resolution that he was trying to get passed?
STEVENS: Well, that’s a difficult issue. It’s not one I discuss in the – in the book. On the one hand, the televising the court would be good for the – for the court and for the country because I think people would realize that the justices are very thorough in their preparation for arguments and their understanding of the cases. They ask intelligent questions, and they – people I think are generally favorably impressed when they see the court at work. And so that’s a very strong plus, and that’s really, I think, what Senator Specter’s primarily interested in.
But the other side of the coin is that television often has unexpected and unintended consequences, and you’re never 100 percent sure that it might not cause a change in the procedure that would have an adverse effect on it. You mentioned football a little earlier. I remember going to a game, sitting in the stands, and all of a sudden, the players are standing around for a minute or two. What – why are they – and then you realize, it’s a commercial. The television has got their commercials in. So it forces changes. And the televising of legislative proceedings, I think, has had – sometimes had an adverse effect on the quality of what goes on.
So you’re never 100 percent sure what the consequences of televising would be, and I think the members that – I think most of them feel more strongly than I do or I did, but I think they are very concerned that the televising might have an unforeseen adverse impact for both lawyers and justices, and an occasional justice might behave differently than he would if he was not being televised.
LAMB: What is your guess as to what will happen over the years with television, because I – for instance, just yesterday, when we’re recording this, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court made a big and – you know had a public meeting where they’re going to – they went on television for the first time, and now all of their proceedings are on television.
STEVENS: Well, and I – and then I say Florida was – Florida Supreme Court was one of the first to do that too. And I think basically the experience has been – has not been adverse. In fact, they have a library, I think, in which lawyers can go look at prior arguments and learn a little bit more about the best way to proceed. So I don’t, from what I understand, I don’t think that the standards have been used in state courts, it has had the adverse effect that we can serve. But I think one reason for that is that it’s not the most popular program in the – in the world. I don’t think there’s the tremendous audience for the everyday argument of every state supreme court decision that is argued, whereas there’s – I think the audience would probably – at least in some cases – be larger if the argument’s with the United States Supreme Court.
LAMB: Think it’ll ever go on television?
STEVENS: Well, ever is a long word, but I wouldn’t hold my breath, that’s for sure.
LAMB: In the book, you talk about the fact that Chief Justice Rehnquist had the four gold stripes on his – on his – help me out here.
STEVENS: On his robe?
LAMB: … on his robe.
LAMB: What do you – what did you think about that idea, and did you ever tell him what you thought of that idea?
STEVENS: Well, I’m not 100 percent sure, to tell you the truth. He did, at one time, before he had his own robes decorated with the stripes, he did make the suggestion to all of us at an informal gathering that he thought the that the robes of some foreign dignitaries that were worn were very impressive, and we ought to give thought to it.
And I think I remember – and this, again, it’s – this is not in the book, but perhaps I shouldn’t even be saying it publicly – but I think remember Sandra O’Connor saying that his suggestion reminded her of President Nixon’s suggestion, that he should have the military personnel at the White House have white uniforms. And she thought it was a very bad idea, and she also thought it would be a bad idea for the court to depart from the very conservative black robes that we’ve always followed. And I don’t think the chief needs a special form of dress to identify himself in the – in the courtroom.
LAMB: What would be the legalisms of that? Could you put four stripes on your robe if you wanted to?
STEVENS: I assume I could. I don’t know. I …
LAMB: Could the other justices have prevented the chief from putting four stripes on his robe?
STEVENS: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think so. I – well, who – I don’t know. I suppose if we had felt strongly enough about it that, and as a majority asked him not to do it, we – he probably would have respected. But that’s the kind of thing that the – each member of the court pretty much respects the judgment of the other – the member who may be doing it, I think.
LAMB: Who assigns him something as simple as an office? How do you get to choose your office?
STEVENS: Well, it’s a little bit like asking who decided he’s going to be chief. You know a lot of these things just happened, and they’ve never been changed. It’s been part of the practice and the tradition throughout the court. The first chief, I guess, was designated chief by President Washington, and that’s been followed.
But I don’t think there’s any law that would prevent the members of the Supreme Court from treating that office as other state appellate courts do, where they either rotate the chief’s trips one year after another, or they electhim, choose him by lot or something like that so that I don’t think there’s a statute or a provision in the Constitution of which I’m aware that specifies that the presidential shall make – nominate the chief. But he’s always done it, and we’ve also been happy with it. And so nobody’s even thought about it, as far as I know.
LAMB: So in your 34 years plus over there, did you – how many different offices were you in?
STEVENS: Well, I was in one, two, three, four, four different offices.
LAMB: And you moved according to seniority, when?
STEVENS: No. Well, yes, yes and no. I first started in the office that I’m occupying right now which is in a beautiful spot. In the west side of the building where have a beautiful beautiful view of the capital. It is the office that was – as I understand it, was originally thought to be assigned to the retired chief justice.
And Warren Burger didn’t use it when he retire but there was no retired chief justice, when I joined the court and Bill Douglas wanted to keep his chambers and I didn’t want to make an issue out of it. So, I first moved in to the location at the front of the court. And then, I was able to leave that office and move halfway down the hall when Tom Clark died.
He had chambers in the – in the side of the court. I went to his chambers for two or three years. And then, when Potter Stewart retired, I moved into his chambers on that corner which is a beautiful office. And I stayed there until they did the serious redecoration three or four years ago.
And which has also should changes and the court where made and when the justice of chambers remodeled, the justices had to take – to temporary quarters elsewhere. And when they remodeled my chambers, I moved in to Justice O’Connor chambers and I like them, so I just stayed there.
So, and then I was there until I retired.
LAMB: I count it and I did it quickly before we started here that you’ve served with 19 of the 112 justices?
STEVENS: Yes, I did.
LAMB: Over the years? Yes. And I guess I don’t know if this is a kind of question you want to answer. But who over those years where you the closest to personally?
STEVENS: You know, it’s interesting. I should have an answer to that question. And I’ve been thinking about it lately, I was very fond of Byron White, I was fond of all of them. But then I said, ”You know, I felt very strongly about Lewis Powell and Potter Stewart and Billy Brennan and Thurgood Marshall.
They’re all are very very good, Harry Blackmun and we’re – we were all friends. And I think I was a genuine friend…of course Sandra the same way and David when he came on. And it’s really difficult to elevate one over the other.
LAMB: When you talk about sitting on the bench next to as you say Nino.
LAMB: Antonin Scalia and there was one point where, you kind of, I don’t know if I can get my notes here or not yes, here it is... where he leaned over to you in the middle of an argument and said, ”Must be dumb defendant day.” Dumb defendant day?
LAMB: How often did you whisper those to each other?
STEVENS: Well, that the particular phrase but Nino is a delightful guy, he’s and absolute and a wonderful sense of humor. And you knew, he’s very brilliant, so he comes up within a very short notice and there were many – in more than one occasion. When I was very happy being beneficiary of one or more of his remarks.
So, he – I can’t overstate how clever person he is.
LAMB: Here is your fifth chief justice, John Roberts.
John Roberts: Justice Brandeis once said, ”He could do the 12 months worth of work of the court in 10 months but he couldn’t do it in 12 months.” It’s good that we get something a break from each other. We have worked that we continue to do. We continue to pull through those 9,000 petitions that could come in, you can’t put those off too till the fall.
You have to keep up with those, we get emergency matters from time to time. But we do get out of Washington, the workload is significantly reduced. I get to spend a little more time with my family than was the case during – is always the case during the – during the sitting.
LAMB: You said about Bill Rehnquist was that he said, ”Call me Bill,” but you didn’t? Did you ever call him chief?
STEVENS: We called him chief. We really did, yes.
LAMB: What’s the relationship, I mean, you are considerably older than John Roberts. What happens when the young man like that comes into the court?
STEVENS: I call him chief. I still feel if I see him today, I feel more comfortable calling him chief than John. It wouldn’t bother him in the slightest if I call him John because we’re good friends but it’s just one of those traditions and in part of the court that sticks with me.
LAMB: What’s it – been he’s impact on the court? How does he affected the operation itself?
STEVENS: Well, he’s continued to do a very fine job in handling the conferences. He’s an excellent presiding officer. I think he, may well be the best to well, I don’t know – I can’t really – evaluate Warren in that one because I know he was highly regarded, the way he handled public affairs too.
But John is a – an excellent presiding officer. He’s particularly good also in public affairs where he might have to be talking to a group of judges from foreign country, who are paying a visit to the court or something and explaining what’s going on there. He has a – he always would have a something interesting to say about the history of the court that they could understand and appreciate.
He’s a very – he’s a very attractive person.
LAMB: So, what if all the 112 over the years, let’s pick on the ones that you didn’t serve with. Who would you have liked to have known?
STEVENS: Well, that’s a wonderful question. I guess, the one is – the three that come most immediately to my mind is that three that I regarded as heroes when I was a law student, Cardozo and Brandeis and Holmes.
LAMB: Brandeis is the first Jewish member of the court?
STEVENS: Yes, I think that’s right.
LAMB: This because now I believe there’s something like – was it there? Six Catholics and three Jews in the court now, now that you’ve gone. Is it – does it matter when people look at the court from the outside and they see that? Does that make a difference just to how people make decisions?
STEVENS: I don’t think it does – I don’t think it makes a difference at all. A little at one time it was thought to be important. I mean there was considered to be a Jewish seat on the court for a while. And that trend went from – yes, I know whether it was Steve or Ruth have that now.
But in any event, and I guess I’m the last WASP.
LAMB: You’re in the last WASP.
STEVENS: Yes. And when I first came out on the court, it goes the – was most of the court over the years has been Protestant and White-Anglo Saxon that’s true. But I don’t think it makes a particle of difference. It really is totally irrelevant in the discussions.
And there may be an occasion when a religious holiday is given to particular significant, where a member of the court but other than that, it’s totally irrelevant to the decisional process.
LAMB: How did you do this book?
STEVENS: I did it the same way I write opinions. I had ideas and I write them out and then I do more, then I and when I got to a certain point I asked my law clerks to read it over and make suggestions. And then as my law clerks had done on my opinions and I got excellent suggestions as I went along.
And as I think, I may have mentioned my agent suggested that chapter about the earlier chiefs. I wrote you know most of it at home, some are in the office and…
LAMB: I’m sure over the years you read the media copy on the way you made your decisions and whether or not Jerry Ford was happy with your political positions on the different issues. The question is that so much and did you present forever talk about that in private?
STEVENS: No, no, never, never either before I was appointed or after I was appointed. He did write me a letter that I’m very proud off that I’ve got on my wall. Which in generally indicates agreement with my judicial work but I don’t remember ever discussing any legal issue with him.
LAMB: What do you want people – what’s the thing you want to take away most you want to take away this book?
STEVENS: Or preferred them both?
STEVENS: Well, I don’t know. There’s over a – it’s in a way it’s a kind of a mismatch because it’s a mixture of personal recollections and the comments on different aspects on the law on different people. So, I just don’t know, I don’t expect it to be valued very highly by scholars.
Because it is not really directed to the scholars and I think perhaps to some memories to general public to think I’ve got too much discussion in cases in there and others may feel otherwise. It’s a kind of hard to say because it’s a – it’s something that you’re just kind of grew as I worked on it.
LAMB: Justice John Paul Stevens, we’re out of time.
LAMB: Name of the book is called ”Five Chiefs.” Thank you very much for joining us.
STEVENS: Well, thank you. You’ve been very kind to me.