Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton received high praise on Wednesday from former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens for his decision upholding President Obama’s health care overhaul.
Justice Stevens observed: “I admire Jeff’s work. He’s a very fine judge, and is very conservative,” and commended Judge Sutton’s ability to “separate the policy issue from the constitutional issue.” At the same time, Justice Stevens questioned whether Judge Sutton’s independence “may have killed his chances of elevation to the Supreme Court.” Ironically, Justice Stevens likened Judge Sutton’s health care opinion to his dissent in Groppi v. Leslie (1970), a dissent in which then-Judge Stevens demonstrated his fierce independence by opposing the incarceration of a Roman Catholic priest, Father James Groppi, who was jailed for contempt and for leading a parade of protestors to disrupt a legislative session. This dissent, Justice Stevens opined, might have been my most “significant court of appeals opinion because I thought it put an end to any possibility that I might be considered for appointment to the Supreme Court.”
Offering admiration for Judge Sutton’s ability to “cal[l] them as he sees them,” Justice Stevens suggested that Judge Sutton’s health care opinion may very well “be his Groppi case.”