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By Jimmy Hoover
Retired Justice John Paul Stevens recently met Justice Neil Gorsuch, and he has a few thoughts.
“I just went down to say hello. ... I think he’s obviously a very good judge and a very decent, likable man,” the former Supreme Court justice told Law360 during a sit-down interview in his chambers in May. “And I think he’ll be a very excellent addition to the court.”High and perhaps surprising praise given the deep philosophical differences between Justice Stevens and the court’s newest member. Those differences were on full display when then Judge Gorsuch took aim at a cornerstone of Stevens’ legacy — his 1984 opinion in Chevron USA Inc. v. NRDC.In Chevron, Justice Stevens held that courts should defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute, a ruling that has since served as an effective shield for federal regulators facing court challenges to sweeping policy initiatives.Then a judge with the Tenth Circuit, Gorsuch took issue with the Chevron holding when ruling in an immigration case in 2016, saying that it was “more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design.” He called Chevron “the elephant in the room” and said “maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.”
Justice Stevens said he hadn’t read Justice Gorsuch’s criticism of the landmark ruling, but he defended Chevron as legal canon and said that undoing it would undermine stare decisis, the doctrine of adhering to precedent.“How important is the doctrine of stare decisis?” Justice Stevens asked. “I think it’s not primarily important in particular issues or particular cases. But it’s rather a very basic part of the work of judges all around the country.
“And if you have a rule that’s been as well settled as the Chevron rule for a long, long time — and there have been literally thousands of citations of it — to suggest changing that seems to me to suggest that the doctrine of stare decisis really doesn’t have much future any more.”But Justice Stevens bears no grudges. To the contrary, he said, disagreement comes with the job.“Part of the work of the court is getting along with everybody in the court,” he said. “You can become very good friends even with people with whom you disagree on fundamental things.”In the case of Justice Gorsuch, it helps that the new justice once clerked for the late Justice Byron White.
“And that’s a good recommendation, because Byron was my best friend on the court, probably of all members of the court, and he had good taste in the law and the people he worked with, so that’s a plus.”
Law360 subscribers can read the full interview with Justice Stevens.
Read the 1st installment of Law360's exclusive interview with Justice Stevens.
Law360 subscribers can also read Law360's exclusive interviews with Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg Part 1 and Part 2 and Sonia Sotomayor Part 1 and Part 2.