Justice John Paul Stevens' retirement leaves big shoes for Obama to fill on gay rights

Posted on 09 Apr 2010 at 10:12am

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As you’ve probably heard, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has announced his retirement effective at the end of the court’s current term, which will be June or July. Stevens has been the leader of the court’s liberal wing and a big supporter of gay rights. Change.org has a post up about Stevens’ legacy on LGBT issues. Here’s a snippet:

At nearly 90-years-old, Stevens probably feels that it’s a good time to head for greener pastures. It’s totally understandable, but it’s also a bit tragic, given that right now there are at least three lawsuits brewing in the federal court system that may eventually make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first is the well-known Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case led by Ted Olson and David Boies challenging California’s law banning gay marriage, otherwise known as Prop 8.

The second is Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al., which is the Massachusetts court case challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex relationships.

The third is the Login Cabin Republicans v. the United States of America, the federal lawsuit itching to overturn the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that discriminates against openly gay, lesbian and bisexual troops.

Three important cases. But if they end up before the U.S. Supreme Court someday, Justice John Paul Stevens won’t be weighing in. That’s tragic, given Stevens’ legacy of being a judicial voice for equality.

But to pivot, it’s also a major opportunity for President Barack Obama to nominate someone who will continue Stevens’ legacy on the court. Honorable. Admired by the right and left. But principled in his stand that law should lift us up, rather than take us down. Those were the characteristics that made Justice John Paul Stevens so revered.

And those are the same qualities that should guide Obama as he seeks someone to fill Stevens’ shoes.

UPDATE: Lambda Legal has also chimed in, focusing on how Stevens’ dissenting opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick was cited in Lawrence v. Texas.

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