Bench Memos

Justice Stevens on Military Diversity

One interesting tidbit in Jeffrey Toobin’s profile of Justice Stevens in the New Yorker is Stevens’s belief that there ought to be a military veteran on the Court.  Toobin writes:

Veterans of the Second World War dominated American public life for decades, but Stevens is practically the last one still holding a position of prominence. He is the only veteran of any kind on the Court. (Kennedy served briefly in the National Guard; Thomas received a student deferment and later failed a medical test during Vietnam.) “Somebody was saying that there ought to be at least one person on the Court who had military experience,” Stevens told me. “I sort of feel that it is important. I have to confess that.”

It turns out, though, that Toobin and, evidently, Stevens have overlooked someone.  As this article discusses, Justice Alito “was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army after graduating from Princeton in 1972,” served for a few months on active duty after he graduated from law school, and then “went on inactive reserve status and was promoted to captain before being honorably discharged in 1980.” 

I don’t mean to compare Alito’s brief period on active duty to Stevens’s codebreaking work at Pearl Harbor during World War II.  Nor do I mean to discount Stevens’s emphasis on the value of having someone with military experience on the Court (though I’ll leave it to those with military experience to debate what Stevens’s votes in national-security cases say about the value of his experience to the Court).