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Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens Lies In Repose

Jul 22, 2019
Originally published on July 22, 2019 8:07 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The public got the chance today to pay respects to the late Justice John Paul Stevens. He died last week at the age of 99. And today, a casket bearing his body lay in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg was there.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The brief ceremony in the morning was as simple as simple could be. Justice Stevens, always a modest man, wanted no grand memorial service. So the understated event was televised on C-SPAN, but only the court, his former law clerks, his family and the court press corps were invited to attend. Outside, more than a hundred of the justice's former clerks lined the steps as his flag-draped coffin was carried up the marble staircase.

Inside the Great Hall were those justices able to get back to town - Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan and retired Justice Kennedy. Also in attendance were Stevens' two surviving children, his nine grandchildren and some of his 13 great-grandchildren. Navy Captain Judy Malana in dress whites, the Navy's regional chaplain, spoke first about Stevens, a World War II Navy veteran and winner of the Bronze Star.

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JUDY MALANA: As we honor Justice John Paul Stevens...

TOTENBERG: She was followed by Justice Elena Kagan, who spoke for the court because she succeeded Justice Stevens upon his retirement.

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ELENA KAGAN: He built up a body of work that demonstrates an extraordinary judicial wisdom unsurpassed by any modern justice.

TOTENBERG: Turning to the former law clerks, Kagan made this rueful observation.

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KAGAN: Now, let's be frank. Justice Stevens, more than most justices, did not need law clerks.

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TOTENBERG: She noted that she knew many, if not most, of the former Stevens clerks and that all had referred to the justice as the best boss they ever had.

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KAGAN: But if ever there were a case where a funeral should become a celebration of a life well lived, this is that case. 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.

TOTENBERG: And that was it. The family, clerks and court members disappeared into a private room. After the ceremony, President and Mrs. Trump paid their respects just moments after Trump tweeted another attack on the four Congresswomen he's invited to leave the country. And soon the public, Stevens admirers and tourists alike, were allowed to pay their respects.

LEON PEACE: I happened to follow him and his career and always enjoyed his insightful observations about the court.

EVAN DAVID BARBER: So many times, we're able to see things on the news and from a distance. But it's a completely different experience to be able to see it up close and in person and pay our respects.

AAMINAH TABASSUM: This was my first time entering the Supreme Court building, so it was definitely like a solemn moment.

DOMINICK SOKOTOFF: I think it was really significant for me because he came from a different time, where we didn't have so much partisan infighting. And I think his legacy is something that will definitely be something that we reflect on. And hopefully, we'll take that to heart.

TOTENBERG: That was lawyer Leon Peace and Capitol Hill interns Evan David Barber, Aaminah Tabassum and Dominick Sokotoff. Tomorrow, there'll be a private funeral for the family and court at nearby Fort Myer. And the justice will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOUD BABIES' "RADIO SPECTRUM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.