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Justice Stevens' Retirement and National Security Law

Last week Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement from the Supreme Court after thirty-four years. Justice Stevens has made some very important national security law decisions while on the Court. Justice Stevens’ ideology and approach to national security law was influenced by his experience as a Navy intelligence officer in WWII. He says that decisions were made hastily, without much thought and it has led him to take a more humanitarian approach to national security law.

Some of the most important terrorism and national security law decisions made by the Supreme Court over the last decade were influenced by Justice Stevens’ views on national security law. In Rasul v. Bush (2004), Justice Stevens brought a majority together to decide that al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay could seek release in American civilian courts. Again, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) Justice Stevens brought together a majority blocking the use of military tribunals with al Qaeda terrorists, and that the terrorists should benefit from the Geneva Conventions. And, in 2008 Justice Stevens joined the majority in Boumediene v. Bush (2007), which refused to obey the jurisdiction-stripping provisions of the Military Commissions Act and allowed the cases involving Guantanamo detainees to continue.

Justice Stevens’ leadership and presence on the court has helped to decide some of the most important national security laws of our time. With his retirement upon us, President Obama will have to make an important choice in nominating a new justice. It remains to be seen if the new justice will be a leader on national security law decisions, and if so, if that justice is a proponent of humanitarian national security laws like Stevens.

To read an editorial with more about Justice Stevens’ impact on national security law, visit The Wall Street Journal.


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