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U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens marked the first gathering of 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges and lawyers since the murder of an Illinois federal judge’s husband and mother-in-law by calling criticism of Justice Anthony Kennedy “irresponsible.” Stevens told more than 200 lawyers and judges at the 7th Circuit judicial conference that he was moved by U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow’s powerful statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee last month asking politicians to temper the tone of debates on judicial independence and “repudiate gratuitous attacks on the judiciary.” Under tight security for the three-day conference in Indianapolis, and with Lefkow in the audience looking on, colleagues repeatedly praised her courage and engulfed her with a standing ovation during the opening session. Chief Judge Charles Kocoras of Chicago, and a long-time friend of Lefkow’s, paid an emotional tribute to Lefkow’s husband, a popular Chicago attorney. Bart Ross, a disgruntled litigant, shot Michael Lefkow and Lefkow’s 89-year-old mother-in-law, Donna Humphrey, in February. Ross later committed suicide. Stevens, who served on the 7th Circuit from 1970 to 1975, departed from his tradition of reporting on the circuit’s record of wins and losses in the Supreme Court’s last session. Lefkow’s statement to the Senate convinced Stevens to speak out about “one irresponsible charge that has been repeated over and over again-the charge that we are attaching more importance to international opinion than to our duty to obey the provision in Article III that makes the Constitution and the Acts of Congress ‘the supreme law of the land.’ “ Stevens said he received a copy of a mass mailing that suggested he should be impeached for joining Kennedy’s opinion that a death sentence for a crime by a 17-year-old violates the Eighth Amendment. He quoted the letter as arguing that a Supreme Court justice “who would submit that the American people should be governed on the basis of international opinion should be impeached.” Stevens said the letter “not only misquotes the text but also seriously distorts the reasoning in Justice Kennedy’s 25-page opinion.” Kennedy’s opinion concluded that the Eighth Amendment should be interpreted through the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” and not frozen in time when originally drafted, “and therefore provid[ing] no hurdle to execution of seven-year-old children,” he said. The opinion points out that the United States is the only country in the world that gives official sanction to the juvenile death penalty, he noted. Kennedy cited five prior cases that referred to laws of other nations and international opinion as evidence of the views of other societies-without giving those decisions dispositive weight, Stevens said. Stevens said that there is a vast difference between considering the thoughtful views of other scholars and judges in America or foreigners, and treating international opinion as controlling the interpretation of U.S. law. “We should not be impeached for the former; and we are not guilty of the latter,” he said. His defense of the court and Kennedy’s opinion, met with another prolonged standing ovation. “If we expect them to listen to us, we should at least be willing to listen to what they have to say.” At the back of the cavernous banquet hall, one of the first to rise to applaud Stevens’ remarks was U.S. District Judge James Moody. Last month, Moody handed down a 40-year sentence to white supremacist leader Matthew Hale, convicted in 2004 of soliciting his security guard to kill Lefkow for ruling against his church in a copyright dispute.

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