Justice John Paul Stevens Shares Supreme Court Memories with UChicago Audience

Event with Justice Stevens Recounts Remarkable Supreme Court Career
Sara Olkon
University of Chicago News Office
October 5, 2011

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, AB’41, says he cast just one vote on the high court that he would change now, if given the chance.

Speaking to a packed house Monday night at International House, Stevens, the third-longest-serving Justice in the history of the Supreme Court, said he regrets siding with the majority on Jurek v. Texas, the 1976 opinion that reinstated capital punishment in the United States.

Stevens, 91, explained his reservations in light of the recent execution of Troy Davis, a Georgia man convicted of killing a police officer in 1989. Davis was executed last month over the objections of civil rights groups, who argued that the recantations of key witnesses in the case warranted the commutation of Davis’ sentence.

“Even though [the case] met the evidentiary standards, there can’t help but be some doubts in a case of that kind,” Stevens said Monday night. The Davis execution “provides an example of one reason why the death penalty, as a matter of policy, is unwise if there is even a minimum of doubt.”