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Justice Stevens Snags Medal of Freedom, Criticizes Citizens United

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 01, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Retired-Justice John Paul Stevens has had quite a week, between national honors and the national discourse.

Tuesday, President Obama awarded Justice Stevens the Medal of Freedom for his dedication to the Constitution. The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor in the country. During the ceremony, Obama praised Justice Stevens practical approach the law, reports The Wall Street Journal.

"He is the third-longest serving justice in the history of the court. And Justice Stevens applied, throughout his career, his clear and graceful manner to the defense of individual rights and the rule of law, always favoring a pragmatic solution over an ideological one ... Even in his final days on the bench, Justice Stevens insisted he was still 'learning on the job.' But in the end, we are the ones who have learned from him," Obama said.

On Wednesday, it was Justice Stevens' turn to give a speech, this time at the University of Arkansas. Justice Stevens indicated that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court may have buyer's remorse regarding the 2010 Citizens United decision, and noted that a January decision continuing the prohibition against noncitizen campaign contributions indicates the Court's willingness to whittle down the Citizens United holding.

Justice Stevens told the crowd in Arkansas, "I think it likely when the court begins to spell out which categories of nonvoters should receive the same protections" enjoyed by U.S. corporations, "it will not only exclude terrorist organizations and foreign agents, but also all corporations owned or controlled by noncitizens, and possibly even those in which noncitizens have a substantial ownership interest," CNN reports.

So has the Medal of Freedom/omnipresent bowtie combination transformed Justice Stevens into the judicial equivalent of a Monday morning quarterback? Not quite. Justice Stevens wrote the main dissenting opinion from Citizens United, so his opposition to the ruling is hardly new. The Huffington Post reports, "On the day the opinion was announced, he spent 20 minutes reading from the bench a summary of his 90-page dissent ... He continued to condemn the ruling in speeches, writings and even on the Colbert Report."

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