Stevens was known as a keen tactician on the court. Because he was the senior justice on the liberal side of the bench, he had the authority to assign cases when the chief justice was voting on the other side.
Stevens used this authority strategically, sometimes assigning himself the big decisions, but other times working with an undecided justice hoping to bring him or her to his side of the argument.
He once told law professor Jeffrey Rosen, "In all candor, if you think somebody might not be solid...it might be wiser to let that person write the opinion."
Abortion: Stevens was not yet on the court when Roe v. Wade, the opinion that legalized abortion, was decided, but he later voted to reaffirm its core holding in Casey v. Pennsylvania.
Affirmative Action: In 2003, he voted to uphold the admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School which took race into consideration in its admissions process. Stevens told an audience at Fordham College in 2006, "With respect to the constitutionality of affirmative action, we have learned that justifications based on past sins may be less persuasive than those predicated on anticipated future benefits."
Death Penalty: During his career on the high court, Stevens came full circle on the issue of the death penalty. In 1976, he voted to reinstate the use of the death penalty but 32 years later, he dropped a bombshell: he had come to believe the death penalty was unconstitutional.
In Baze v. Rees (2008) he wrote: "I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes."
Before this revelation, he wrote Atkins v. Virginia (2002), which ended the death penalty for mentally retarded criminals, and voted to strike down the death penalty for juvenile offenders.
Campaign Finance: Stevens authored a withering dissent in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a 5-4 decision that invalidated decades old federal legislation restricting corporate spending in poltical campaigns.
Stevens read his dissent from the bench shredding the majority's reasoning, saying "at bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt."
Gay rights: In 2003, Stevens assigned Justice Anthony Kennedy to write Lawrence v. Taylor, the landmark gay rights case striking down a criminal ban on gay consensual sex. In his opinion, Kennedy relied heavily on a dissent Stevens had written years earlier in an opinion upholding an anti-gay law.
Internet: In Sony v. Universal Studios, he wrote the decision that found consumers do not violate federal copyright law when they tape TV programs with their video cassette recorders.