Reaction to retirement of Justice Stevens
Reactions to the announced retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens:
The U.S. Supreme Court will lose a friend of church-state separation when Associate Justice John Paul Stevens retires at the end of this term, according to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. But, the Baptist church-state group hopes his successor will be more willing to accommodate the free exercise of religion.
"Justice Stevens has been a friend of church-state separation," said Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director J. Brent Walker. "His Establishment Clause jurisprudence has always been strong, having stood uniformly against government-sponsored religious speech and government endorsement of religion."
"However, his willingness to require - or sometimes even to permit - the accommodation of religion under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause has been lacking," Walker continued. "He joined the Court's conservatives in the Native American peyote case [Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990)], which gutted the Free Exercise Clause of its robust religious liberty protection for all Americans."
"On balance, Justice Stevens has been a thoughtful, diligent jurist who has served the Court and this country admirably," Walker said. "I trust President Obama will nominate someone who embraces Justice Stevens' understanding of the importance of the non-establishment principle, but who will be willing to permit - or even require - the government's accommodation of religion in appropriate cases and to respect the autonomy rights of religion and religious organizations."
The departure of Stevens from the High Court will give President Barack Obama his second spot to fill on the nation's highest court. He appointed Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor to replace Associate Justice David Souter when Souter retired in 2009.
The Baptist Joint Committee is a 74-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty organization that works to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, bringing a uniquely Baptist witness to the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government.
After decades of noble service on the United States Supreme Court, with an unflinching respect for America's secular foundations, the Secular Coalition for America honors the legacy of Justice John Paul Stevens on the announcement of his retirement today.
"Justice Stevens, more than any other living American, has stood strong for the principles that James Madison, the father of the Constitution, intended for the separation of church and state," said Sean Faircloth, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. "He has been a steadfast champion for the rights of Secular Americans to opt out of religion and to be free of religious coercion by government institutions. He will be difficult to replace, and we hope that President Obama will keep Justice Stevens' example in mind when choosing his replacement."
In the landmark City of Boerne v. Flores (1985), deciding the constitutionality of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Justice Stevens wisely voted to strike the law down for local and state applicability, calling it "governmental preference for religion, as opposed to irreligion," noting that the special protections it granted to religious institutions and organizations unjustly did not apply to the secular or nontheistic. Indeed, Justice Stevens did not shrink from highlighting nontheists as a group that would suffer under the law, noting, "The statute has provided the Church with a legal weapon that no atheist or agnostic can obtain."
In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe (2000), Justice Stevens clarified the line of church-state demarcation, stating that opening prayers at a public school football game violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Wrote Stevens, "It is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise." Once again, Justice Stevens asserted the rights of the nonreligious to be free of such coercion, writing in his opinion that such school-sanctioned public prayer events can seem to nonbelievers or those of differing faiths that the practice is intended to marshal the power of the state to impose a particular religion.
Justice Stevens also stood against the subsidizing of religious institutions through taxpayer-funded school vouchers in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002), noting that parents with children in untenable educational circumstances may feel compelled to "accept religious indoctrination [of their children] that they otherwise would have avoided."
These particular cases serve as only a small sampling of Justice Stevens' wisdom at the bench. The Secular Coalition for America thanks him for his work on behalf of the American people, particularly the tens of millions of Secular Americans who have benefited from his tenure.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today praised Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens for his record of support for church-state separation and expressed the hope that his replacement will hold similar views.
Stevens, the oldest member of the court, announced this morning that he will retire at the end of this term. President Barack Obama is expected to soon reveal his choice to replace Stevens.
"Justice Stevens is an icon -- a thoughtful, perceptive justice who understands the role of church-state separation in American life," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It is vitally important that President Obama choose a high court nominee who understands that government may not meddle in matters of religion.
"The high court is deeply divided on church-state issues," Lynn continued. "It is imperative that Stevens' replacement be someone who understands and upholds the constitutional mandate of church-state separation."
Lynn pointed out that Stevens voted consistently against efforts to interject religion into public schools and to funnel tax aid to sectarian schools. He opposed government display of sectarian symbols on public property. At the same time, he was an ardent supporter of the free exercise of religion.
In 2002, Stevens issued a strong dissent from the high court's ruling upholding voucher subsidies for private schools in Cleveland, noting that most of the public funds went to religious institutions. (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris)
"Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundations of our democracy," Stevens wrote.
Lynn said Americans United will closely monitor the nomination process to ensure that Stevens' replacement has the same regard for church-state separation.
Appointed by President Gerald R. Ford, Stevens has served on the Supreme Court since 1975.
Justice John Paul Stevens has made it official. He notified the White House this morning that he intends to retire from the Supreme Court at the end of this term after more than 30 years.
This announcement sets the stage for President Obama to name a replacement who will play a pivotal role in reshaping the federal judiciary.
The fact is that this vacancy underscores the reality that President Obama will make a second appointment to the nation's highest court that will impact generations to come.
We've prepared a short legal memorandum on the impact of Justice Stevens' retirement. You can read that here.
While there's certain to be much debate about Justice Steven's replacement, there is one thing that is clear - President Obama is likely to name a nominee who will embrace an extremely liberal judicial philosophy.
Make no mistake about it - this appointment really represents more than just replacing one vote on the court. With a replacement who is likely to serve for 30 or 40 years, it's clear this replacement will have a long-term impact on judicial philosophy and likely play a determining factor in decisions for decades to come.
Once a nominee is named and the confirmation process begins, it's important that the nominee face full and detailed hearings - with specific focus on the nominee's judicial philosophy including how the nominee views the Constitution, the role of judges, and the rule of law.
That is what the American people expect and deserve.
We will be bringing you additional information about this big development in the days ahead.
David Waters| April 9, 2010; 10:18 AM ET | Category: Under God Save & Share:
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