Sunday, June 2, 2019

In new book, John Paul Stevens relates a lifetime of legal reasoning

John Paul Stevens in 2015
     I was engrossed when I heard former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens speak to the Chicago Bar Association four years ago. Reading his new book was less captivating, for reasons I try to summarize in the Sunday paper today. 

     Chicago doesn’t cherish local boy John Paul Stevens as much as it should. Maybe next year, when the former Supreme Court justice turns 100, he’ll get his due.
     Though now is not too early to kick off the celebration by reading his new book “The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years” (Little Brown, $35).
     An unfortunate subtitle — apparently the book was five years in the making, though you’d think in that time somebody at his publisher would have noticed that Stevens places the presidential election of Jimmy Carter in 1978, as opposed to 1976, the year that event took place in temporal reality.
     Not to start with a gaffe in a book that is, generally, an engaging if, by necessity, legalistic account of the key issues that frame our national conversation.
     Stevens is so long-lived, perhaps it can be forgiven if the years blur.
     He remembers going to the 1929 World Series at Wrigley Field and seeing Babe Ruth make his called shot in 1932. His father and grandfather built the Stevens Hotel — now the Hilton Chicago — and, as a boy, Stevens met Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh. His first job was as a wandering raisin tart salesman at the 1933 Century of Progress Fair, the fourth star in the flag of Chicago.
     Stevens was invited to become a Navy cryptographer, spending World War II deciphering Japanese communications, then returned to Chicago to get his law degree at Northwestern.

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