Why Justice Stevens’ fraught relationship with the First Amendment still reverberates

Justice Stevens

The late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens today is being hailed as a liberal beacon who took strong stands against the death penalty and in favor of gun control and limits on political spending.

But despite his well-deserved reputation as a judge who was motivated by decency and principle, his legacy with regard to the First Amendment is mixed.

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Keeping public records public

In 1989, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, ruled that public records can cease to be public once they’ve been compiled into a computerized, easy-to-access database.

Now the Court is hearing a case with some eerie similarities involving the names of people who sign petitions to place public-policy questions on the ballot. In the Guardian this week, I compare the two cases — and hope that Stevens, as one of his final acts before retiring this summer, will help keep public records public.