Stevens sets the record straight – politely

To err is human. But to be utterly polite in pointing out errors is supreme.

For those who caught the profile of Justice John Paul Stevens in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, you may want to check out a letter from the Court’s eldest justice published in the magazine yesterday, pointing out a few factual boo-boos in the piece, “The Dissenter,” which was penned by George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen.

While the errors are more than minor – among them, an implication that Stevens was a political activist bent on opposing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley at a time when Daley had not yet been elected – Stevens could not have been nicer about pointing them out.

DC Dicta could not find Stevens’ letter on the publication’s website (it’s on page 12 for those with a hard copy of the magazine) so we will reprint it here:

While I am sure that the profile of me was well intentioned and I am grateful for Jeffrey Rosen’s compliments, I feel compelled to correct certain misunderstandings reflected in the article (Sept. 23).

The piece gives the reader the impression that I claim credit for helping break the Japanese naval code that enabled our forces to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto. While I did serve in the Navy’s communications intelligence unit at Pearl Harbor — specifically in traffic analysis and in the decryption of enemy call signs — and while I was on watch when we received word that the operation had succeeded, I definitely did not ”help break the code that informed American officials” of the admiral’s itinerary.

Contrary to the statement in the article, I did not turn down ”an offer to teach at Yale Law School” after completing my clerkship, although it is true that I had no interest in teaching at that time. Nor did I, upon returning to Chicago, join forces ”with moderate and liberal good-government Democrats, who were opposed to the corruption of the Daley machine.” I was never active in politics, Daley did not become mayor until years after my return to Chicago and I have never suggested that the Daley machine was corrupt.

Justice John Paul Stevens

United States Supreme Court

Washington

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