Supreme Court Prequel: Justice Stevens on the Seventh Circuit

Lindquist, Stefanie A. | March 1, 2012

Justice Stevens’s retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court has occasioned numerous retrospectives on his lengthy career as a Supreme Court Justice. Yet Justice Stevens’s career began on the Seventh Circuit and his voting behavior and doctrinal positions on the circuit court provide a unique window into his judicial character and the roots of his thinking on important issues that continued to preoccupy him on the Supreme Court. In this Essay, I first analyze then-Judge Stevens’s voting behavior on the court of appeals by examining the frequency with which he wrote separate opinions, as well as his voting interagreement with his colleagues on the circuit bench. I then discuss the doctrinal positions taken by Judge Stevens in several substantive areas, including substantive due process, gender discrimination, and election law, noting how those positions were often reiterated in Justice Stevens’s opinions on the Supreme Court. The Essay concludes that Judge Stevens, like Justice Stevens, was extremely independent in his voting behavior. In terms of the ideological direction of his votes, Judge Stevens’s votes did not follow a clear pattern; instead he
was iconoclastic and unpredictable. Nevertheless, positions taken by Judge Stevens in several cases sounded themes and principles upon which he continued to rely even until his final term on the Supreme Court.