John Paul Stevens, who managed the court’s effort to offer legal protections to prisoners held in the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, died in Florida on Tuesday. He age was 99.
“On account of the Court and retired Justices, I’m saddened to report that our colleague Justice John Paul Stevens has passed away,” Chief Justice John Roberts stated in an announcement. “A son of the Midwest heartland and a veteran of World War II, Justice Stevens devoted his long life to public service, together with 35 years on the Supreme Court. He dropped at our bench an inimitable blend of kindness, humility, wisdom, and independence. His unrelenting dedication to justice has left us a better nation.”
Raised to the Supreme Court in 1975 by a Republican president, Stevens grew to become an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush’s efforts to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Bush administration argued that enemy combatants held in the off-shore jail weren’t entitled to access to U.S. courts as a result of they weren’t U.S. residents and so they weren’t being held on American soil.
Stevens disagreed. In the 2004 case Rasul v. Bush, he wrote the bulk opinion ruling that prisoners at Guantanamo had the right to challenge the legality of their imprisonment earlier than a U.S. court. Two years later, Stevens wrote the bulk opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which dominated that the military commission system arranges below Bush violated U.S. and international law.