WASHINGTON—A solemn Supreme Court bid farewell to the late John Paul Stevens, the retired justice who died last week at the age of 99, just days after attending a legal conference with two current justices in Lisbon.
“If ever there were a case where a funeral should become a celebration of a life well-lived, this is that case,” Justice Elena Kagan, his successor, told mourners Monday at a private ceremony in the court’s Great Hall. “Justice Stevens lived a long life. He lived a great and important and influential life, and he lived a life of integrity and kindness and decency and service.”
Some 80 former Stevens law clerks, among them Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber and U.S. Circuit Judge Pamela Harris, crowded the hall, along with generations of his large family—children to adults—sporting the justice’s trademark bow ties.
“He was a modest and humble man,” Justice Kagan said. “Yet there was nobody who could stand on principle more firmly.”
Justice Stevens died July 16 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., having suffered a stroke the previous day. He was born in Chicago the year women got the vote and was a World War II veteran who enlisted the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Considered a mainstream Republican when nominated by President Ford in 1975, Justice Stevens by his 2010 retirement was leader of the court’s liberal wing. He emerged as a canny strategist who won surprising victories that allowed regulation of greenhouse gasses and curbed presidential power. He authored dissents decrying decisions that expanded access to guns, removed limits on political spending and, in 2000, halted the presidential election recount in Florida.
With a few exceptions—notably the death penalty, which he voted to restore but later came to regret—Justice Stevens said he hadn’t changed his views, but that more conservative appointees had shifted the court’s ideological center to his right.
Whatever colleagues or critics thought of his jurisprudence, however, they were all but unanimous in celebrating the late justice as embodying a traditional Midwestern decency.
That was evident by the visit of President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to pay their respects, despite Justice Stevens having voiced concerns over the administration’s refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas.
The president and first lady stood in silence before the flag-draped coffin, which rested upon the Lincoln Catafalque, the platform which once supported the casket of President Lincoln, before pausing to admire the justice’s official portrait.
Also attending were Chief Justice John Roberts, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justices Samuel Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor—the latter two having joined Justice Stevens at the Lisbon meeting sponsored by the New York University School of Law.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh were traveling. Justice Kavanaugh’s wife, Ashley Kavanaugh, attended, as did the widows of the late justices William O. Douglas and Thurgood Marshall.
A Navy chaplain, Capt. Judy Malana, opened the service. “We honor Justice John Paul Stevens who was indeed a great man, of our Greatest Generation,” she said. “May his courage, intellect, reason, creativity, kindness, humility and civility continue to inspire all of us to our best selves.”
Justice Stevens is to be interred Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery in a private ceremony.
Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens recently attended a conference in Lisbon with three current justices, including Justice Samuel Alito. Justice Alito didn’t attend the conference. Jul 22.
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