Kathryn A. Watts, Justice Stevens's Black Leather Arm Chair, 106 Nw. U. L. Rev. 845 (2012), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/39
Northwestern University Law Review
Justice John Paul Stevens
As a law clerk to Justice Stevens in the October Term 2002, I felt that the very best part of the job came almost every afternoon. Without any advance warning, the Justice would get up from his desk and walk through chambers to the law clerks’ main office and plop down into a well-worn black leather arm chair that formed part of a cozy seating area flanked by tall bookshelves filled with volumes of case reporters and the United States Code.
As soon as the Justice started settling himself into his arm chair, my co-clerks and I all knew that the Justice was ready to chat and that the four of us should gather around the Justice and take a seat. Once we were all seated, we would talk. And talk. And talk. These conversations, which often would span an hour or more each afternoon, generally were quite casual with the Justice putting his feet up on the adjacent coffee table.
The Term that I clerked for the Justice, we had no end of interesting cases to talk about, including Lawrence v. Texas involving Texas’s anti-sodomy statute and the University of Michigan affirmative action cases. I think often about the lessons that Justice Stevens taught me from his black leather arm chair: the importance of being generous, patient and kind; the value of listening to and accepting those with different views; the need to keep your chin up even when things do not turn out as you want them to; and the benefits that flow from putting your all into your job but nonetheless maintaining a sense of balance and perspective in life.
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn these lessons from the Justice. It truly was the opportunity of a lifetime. Now that the Justice is retired, I am very sorry that he will no longer give four new clerks each year the opportunity to learn from him, and I am sorry that the black leather arm chair in his chambers is likely not getting quite as much use as it did before Justice Stevens retired