The Legacies of Stevens, and Gerald Ford

President Gerald Ford with Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger and Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, December 19, 1975. SCOTUS William Fitz-Patrick/Gerald R. Ford Library Photographer: William Fitz-Patrick W. Fitz-Patrick/Ford Library

It's a little sobering to realize you were there when the President appointed the man who turned out to be the longest-serving member of the current Supreme Court, which may be why I seem a little sober today.

I was the White House correspondent 34 years ago when President Ford nominated Justice John Paul Stevens.

And no, it doesn't seem like yesterday - it was a long time ago.

The nation was coming out of the awful days of Watergate. The President had pardoned Richard Nixon, which I thought at the time was the absolute wrong thing to do, and which I later came to believe was the right thing to do.

President Ford told me that he did that because he really had no choice. He had to get the nation moving forward and focusing on the serious problems ahead.

But he also told me he was genuinely proud of the appointment of Stevens, and in later years he wrote he was willing to let history's judgment of him rest "exclusively, if necessary" on that nomination.

So he would have liked the way The New York Times put it yesterday, that Justice Stevens "may be the last justice from a time when ability and independence, rather than perceived ideology, were viewed as the crucial qualifications for a seat on the court."

It was a long time ago, and a very different time.

Gerald Ford was in the White House only a short while and is sometimes denigrated by historians and presidential scholars.

But giving the nation a way to reboot after Watergate at great political cost to himself and sending John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court is not a bad legacy.

As Justice Stevens' fine service was being rightly celebrated last week, I couldn't help but think of that as well.
  • Bob Schieffer On Twitter»

    Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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