Princeton president reflects on time spent clerking for late Justice Stevens

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PRINCETON -

Tributes from around the country are coming in for retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens who died Tuesday at 99 years old.

One person who remembers the justice fondly is Princeton University President Chris Eisgruber who served as a law clerk for Stevens in 1989.

“John Paul Stevens taught me things both about our Constitution and our country and about the treatment of other people,” Eisgruber says.

Eisgruber says that Stevens was one of the best attorneys he ever worked with, saying “He was very quick in his arguments. He would call the clerks down once a day to talk with him and we knew we needed to be sharp."

Law clerks do research for judges and justices and often write first drafts of opinions. But Eisgruber says that this was not the case with Stevens.

RELATED: Stevens' body to lie in repose at Supreme Court on Monday 

"There were clerks who didn't believe me when I said our Justice John Paul Stevens was doing his own first drafts. It's unusual,” Eisgruber says.

The university president says that Stevens was also kind and respectful of all people.

"He showed the same kind of respect for every person who he met, whether it was a young lawyer, whether it was a tourist on the street, whether it was a litigant in front of him, he was always polite,” Eisgruber says. “He was always well mannered and he always used politeness, not as a form of exclusivity the way sometimes people may put on airs, but rather as a vehicle for kindness."

Republican President Gerald Ford appointed Stevens to the Supreme Court. He eventually was seen as heading the court's more liberal wing. Eisgruber says one of the keys to understanding Stevens - who voted to uphold a ban on flag burning - is to remember Stevens' service in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

"If you read those cases you see his tremendous love of country and love of the Constitution and his belief that both Constitution and flag stand for these extraordinary American ideals and aspirations we should always be making progress toward,” he says.

Eisgruber says that he last saw Stevens at a gathering of clerks in Florida this past May.

Stevens will be buried Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery. His casket will lie in repose at the Supreme Court the day before.

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