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Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spent much of his 35 years on the court disagreeing with the majority, but he's bullish about the institution.

At a talk Monday at Princeton University, his biggest applause line was for his shortest answer. The question: Are you optimistic about the future of the court and the Constitution?

His answer: "Yes."

The 91-year-old retired justice had a public conversation with Princeton Provost Christopher Eisgruber, who served as a clerk for him in the 1989-1990 court session.

His talk came a week after the publication of his book "Five Chiefs," about the three chief justices he served under and the two others he got to know earlier in his legal career as a clerk and a lawyer.

Stevens, famous for his bow ties, donned one in Princeton black and orange for the occasion. During a tenure that was the third-longest in court history, he also became famous for disagreeing with the court's majority. Stevens was appointed by Republican President Gerald Ford, and by the time he left last year, he was perhaps the most reliably liberal member of the court. About half his 1,400 opinions were dissents

For some Princeton students, that made him a hero. One woman wore a T-shirt that said, "I (heart) JPS."

Stevens has regrets about upholding a Texas capital punishment law and wishes the court would change positions on sovereign immunity and allow lawsuits against the government.

Yet he's happy with the way the court works.

He appeared a bit taken aback when one student asked him if the court should have a way to enforce its own rulings. "It's true that the court has to rely on the executive branch," he said. "But I don't think that's ever been a problem."

He also that by the time he joined the court in 1975, it was a congenial place — something he said wasn't the case when he was a clerk there himself in 1947.



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