>That retiring Justice John Paul Stevens is leader of the Supreme Court's (more or less) liberal wing is practically a cliché. The Alliance for Justice summarizes the prevailing liberal view of Stevens as an "unparalleled champion of the Constitution," including among his achievements his "eloquent" defense of "individual liberties." But, in fact, Stevens has a mixed record on core First Amendment freedoms; and the paucity of attention it has received from the left raises questions about liberalism's declining commitment to fundamental speech and associational rights.
In Texas v Johnson, Justice Stevens dissented from a landmark decision striking down a state law that criminalized flag desecration. In FCC v Pacifica Foundation, he wrote the majority opinion in a notorious, highly consequential ruling empowering the FCC to sanction "indecent" radio broadcasts, in response to complaints about George Carlin's classic "seven dirty words" monologue. (Stevens tried qualifying this decision in a too little, too late dissent in Fox v FCC.) He concurred in U.S. v Williams, upholding a federal criminal law including prohibitions on false advertisements for virtual child porn. He dissented in Boy Scouts of American v Dale, a ruling upholding the private associational rights of the Scouts to exclude gay people. And, most recently, he dissented vigorously (from the bench) in Citizens United v FEC, the hotly contested five to four decision striking down bans on independent expenditures by corporations.