BOCA RATON, Fla. – Speaking in Florida today, Chicago native and retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said that Brett Kavanaugh’s conduct last week before the Senate Judiciary committee changed his mind about Kavanaugh’s fitness for the high court.

It’s rare for a retired justice to weigh in on a pending nomination.

The Palm Beach Post reports that Stevens, a lifelong Republican, told an audience of retirees that he initially supported Kavanaugh’s nomination – and even wrote about one of his opinions in his 2014 book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.”

“At that time, I thought (Kavanaugh) had the qualifications for the Supreme Court should he be selected,” Stevens is quoted as saying. “I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability … I feel his performance in the hearings ultimately changed my mind.”

Democrats who oppose his confirmation contend that Kavanaugh could harbor political bias in light of the fierce opposition he faces over allegations that he sexually assaulted a teen while in high school.

“I think there’s merit to that criticism, and I think the senators should really pay attention that,” Stevens, who is 98, said at a closed event hosted by a retirement group, The Institute for Learning.

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens during his onstage interview with Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton, October 4, 2018, in Boca Raton, Florida. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens during his onstage interview with Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton, October 4, 2018, in Boca Raton, Florida. | Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post

Stephens was appointed to the high court by President Gerald Ford and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. He served from 1975 until his retirement in 2010. His rulings overall tended to be more liberal than conservative, particularly later in his term. The Palm Beach Post notes that “as a justice, Stevens was one of three dissenting votes in the Bush v. Gore case that ordered Florida to end the ballot recount in the disputed presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and effectively propelled Bush to the presidency.”

Stevens said political leaders and the court have failed to repair the nation’s confidence in the judicial branch’s separation from the president and the Legislature.

“I think it’s worse, I regret to say it,” he told the group of seniors in Boca Raton.

Protesters against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh gather at the Hart Senate Office Building atrium on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Protesters against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh gather at the Hart Senate Office Building atrium on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. | AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta