On April 20, 1998 a Chicago federal jury ruled against Joe Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action League in the NOW v. Scheidler RICO case. It happened to be Justice John Paul Stevens’ 78th birthday.
Four years earlier Stevens had joined the entire Supreme Court in ruling that the National Organization for Women could use the RICO statute to go after pro-life protesters — specifically the Pro-Life Action League and Operation Rescue along with their respective founders, Joe Scheidler and Randall Terry.
In 2003 the U. S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the protesters, deciding that they were not guilty of violating the RICO law.
The lone dissenter? John Paul Stevens who, in his dissent, called the Court’s ruling “murky.” He went on to write that the beneficiaries of the Court’s 8-1 ruling are a “class of professional criminals whose conduct persuaded Congress that the public needed federal protection from extortion.”
Stevens was referring the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994.
But when NOW v. Scheidler went back to the Supreme Court for review a third time, Stevens took the position that the Court had already decided the case, that the Petitioners (Scheidler, et al.) had not violated RICO, and stated in the oral hearing, “We also actually entered a mandate too.”
Stevens was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford in 1975. He had been considered a conservative as an appellate judge, but as the makeup of the Supreme Court moved to the right under Reagan and Bush, Stevens moved to the left and has tended in the latter half of his high court career to be a liberal vote.
Stevens consistently voted to uphold Roe v. Wade and opposed measures that would regulate abortion. Pro-Lifers have prayed for his retirement for decades, and Stevens has stayed on the court longer than most justices.
He will turn 90 on Tuesday, April 20. His exit from the court will give President Obama an opportunity to appoint another justice of his own stripe, but it is unlikely that any choice could be worse than Stevens has been on the abortion issue.
Obama will select a justice that reflects his own liberal views, but as has often happened, that choice could grow and shift positions once he or she is on the Court. We just hope that Obama’s choice will not be Diane Wood, who listed membership in the National Organization for Women in her biography for the Sullivan’s Law Directory and clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.
Wood wrote the 2000 Appellate decision in NOW v. Scheidler, fully concurring with the jury’s 1998 decision against Scheidler, and the 2003 Appellate decision in which she bought hook, line and sinker the National Organization for Women’s notion that the Supreme Court had not actually meant what it said in finding for Scheidler that:
Because all of the predicate acts supporting the jury’s finding of a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act must be reversed, the Seventh Circuit’s decision that petitioner protesters’ activities at abortion clinics violated RICO must also be reversed.
Once again we caution pro-life activists: Do not count on judges, legislators or presidents to protect life. It is our job to build a Culture of Life.