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Justice Blackmun Dead At 90

Retired Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, 90, died Thursday of complications following hip-replacement surgery in an Arlington, Va., hospital.

Blackmun was widely known as the author of the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The former justice had fallen and broken his hip at home a day before the operation.

In an interview released by the Supreme Court, Blackmun said he looked back on his three plus decades on the federal bench and his 24 years on the Supreme Court "with great appreciation for the opportunity to live those days."

"This was one of the greatest satisfactions for me," Blackmun said.

Blackmun served 24 years on the nation's highest court after being appointed in 1970 by President Richard M. Nixon. He retired in 1994.

When appointing Blackmun, President Nixon called him a "strict constructionist," a term defined by Nixon aides as a judge who leaned toward interpreting existing law rather than making new law.

Blackmun, who lived every decade of the 20th century, said these years have been a period of great growth in the national consciousness of America's obligations to the world.

"The United States has recognized the fact that it has a distinct posture in the world and a distinct responsibility in the world," Blackmun added.

Reflecting on the condition of the Supreme Court, Blackmun said the court must be equipped to handle new issues that may arise.

"A decision will have to be made [by the Supreme Court on new issues]. That's what life is all about. That's why it's so fascinating," Blackmun said.

Blackmun often cast liberal votes in cases pitting individual liberties against governmental authority. But he generally voted against expanding the rights of criminal suspects.

He was a champion of maintaining a strict separation between church and state.

But towering above all else in Blackmun's high court tenure was his role in the 1973 abortion decision and subsequent rulings.

His authorship of Roe vs. Wade made him the most vilified Supreme Court member in history. He received more than 60,000 pieces of "hate mail" because of the decision.

Blackmun said he doubted the court was prepared to deal with abortion in 1970. If it had been, Blackmun said, "I think it would've alarmed everybody."

In a 1983 interview with The Associated Press on the eve of the tenth anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, Blackmun repeated the phrase "author of the abortion decision" slowly and softly. "We all pick up tabs," he said. "I'll carry this one to my grave."

Looking toward the 21st century, Blackmun said it should be an exciting time given the development of knowledge.

"We have to work hard to keep [the world] peaceful," he said, hoping against the threat of World War III.

Twice during the interview, Blackmun emphasized that he could not understand "why man is inhumane to hs fellow man."

"Greed, corruption and selfishness prevail for the most part over the better features of mankind's nature," he said.

Blackmun was born in Nashville, Ill., but was raised in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and three daughters.

"We'll make it somehow," Blackmun said. "We've done well so far."