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Justice Stevens says He Only Regrets Vote to Uphold Death Penalty

Doug Stanglin

Former Supreme Court associate justice John Paul Stevens called the 1976 decision to uphold the death penalty "incorrect" and says it is the "one vote I would change."(Photograph: Charles Dharapak/AP)

Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, who was not on the bench this morning for the new term for the first time in 35 years, says the only vote he would change from all his years on the high court was the one to uphold the death penalty.

In a wide-ranging interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg, the 90-year-old Stevens says he thought at the time that the universe of defendants eligible for capital punishment was so narrow that "you can be confident that the death penalty was appropriate."

But, he says, the court has so expanded the cases eligible for the death penalty that "the underlying premise for my vote has disappeared, in a sense." He called the 1976 decision to uphold the death penalty "incorrect" and says it is the "one vote I would change."

In an interview with USA TODAY's Joan Biskupic, Stevens criticized decisions of the court under Chief Justice John Roberts even as he declared his faith in the institution.

"In time, the court will straighten itself out," Stevens tells Biskupic. "Judges change over time, as they do the work. And there are fine judges on the court right now, and in the long run, you can be sure that they'll do a good job."

Listen to NPR's complete interview by clicking here

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