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October 20, 2010

Must-read speech from retired Justice Stevens about Harmelin Eight Amendment ruling

Thanks to a posting by Tony Mauro via the NLJ's Supreme Court Insider, I just came across this remarkable speech about the Eighth Amendment and the 1991 Harmelin ruling from retired Justice John Paul Stevens.  Here is how Tony describes the speech in his posting:

In a little-noticed speech delivered Oct. 7 and available on the Court's web site Stevens offered some pointed criticism of Justice Antonin Scalia, while applauding Justice Anthony Kennedy for displaying "more civilized" views than he did 20 years ago. For good measure, Stevens praised Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.'s "thoughtful opinion" last term in Graham v. Florida.

Stevens' main focus in the talk before the National Legal Aid & Defender Association was a 1991 decision that is probably one of that group's least favorite rulings: Harmelin v. Michigan, which found that a life sentence for possession of 672 grams of cocaine was constitutional.  Stevens dissented in the case, though his comments about Scalia and Kennedy did not have a score-settling tone.  They did, however, convey feelings he's clearly harbored for a long while.

"People were expecting a speech with a few war stories, I think," said Jenner & Block partner David DeBruin, a co-chair of the event at which Stevens was given a lifetime achievement award and a standing ovation.  "But what struck me is that even though he is retired, he is still very active substantively.  He clearly wanted to convey some thoughts about his time on the Court and the process of judging."

October 20, 2010 at 04:02 PM | Permalink


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Does anyone know whatever happened to petitioner Harmelin? Michigan DOC's online offender search does not list him, but says it removes persons after 3 years of discharge.


Posted by: . | Oct 20, 2010 4:20:10 PM

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