NEW YORK – One day after swearing in John Roberts as the 17th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens told an audience at Fordham Law School that assumptions or speculation about how a judicial nominee will vote should not be admissible in the nomination process.

“Pre-argument predictions about how a judge or justice is likely to vote are far less significant than the knowledge that he or she will analyze the cases with an open mind and with respect for the law as it exists at the time of the decision,” said Stevens, who at 85 is the oldest current member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Stevens addressed more than 500 people who had assembled at the McNally Amphitheatre as part of a two-day symposium that featured many of his former law clerks and other legal scholars who examined his jurisprudence.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens speaks at Fordham Law School’s McNally Amphitheatre on Sept. 30. Photo by Chris Taggart.

Initially viewed as a moderate when he was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1975, Stevens has since become the most consistent liberal voice on the high court. He recalled several cases he has presided over that demonstrate a “learning process” that he said all justices undergo while serving.

“I know that learning on the bench has been one of the most important and rewarding aspects of my own experience over the last 35 years,” said Stevens, who served five years as a federal judge before his appointment to the Supreme Court. He will mark the 30th anniversary of his appointment to the high court in December 2005.

“It is our privilege to celebrate Justice Stevens’ 30 years on the United States Supreme Court and to have him join us in marking our 100th anniversary,” said William Michael Treanor, dean of Fordham Law School. “He has done so much for the law, so much for our nation and so much for the world.”

Stevens’ stature in the legal community was evidenced by more than 20 of his former law clerks that participated and attended the conference. Jeffrey Lehman, the former president of Cornell University and a former law clerk of Justice Stevens, described him as “someone who embodies a rare and deeply admirable form of professional virtue.”

In a letter to Treanor, former President Gerald Ford, who appointed Stevens to the nation’s highest court, wrote, “I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination 30 years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The symposium was part of Fordham Law School’s centennial celebration, which will be highlighted by a yearlong campaign for students and alumni to amass 100,000 hours of pro bono work, an effort that is reflective of the Law School’s long-standing commitment to the service of others.