(CNN) - Retired Justice John Paul Stevens may have carved a mostly liberal record in his nearly 35 years on the U.S. Supreme Court, but he received high praise Wednesday from one of the most conservative members of Congress.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the 94-year-old Stevens one of the most effective and "dangerous" justices, and said he was lucky no longer having to face him on the bench.
Prior to his elected position, Cruz was an attorney who frequently argued before the high court, including an effective state government stint as Texas Solicitor General.
"It is a different position to be on this side of the dais, not having to answer questions from Justice Stevens,” said Cruz admiringly.
"Justice Stevens often disagreed with the position of my clients. And there was no justice whose questions were more incisive, more friendly and, frankly, more dangerous than Justice Stevens."
Dressed in his trademark bow tie, Stevens was there to give a prepared statement to the Senate Rules Committee, offering his thoughts on a controversial topic - campaign finance reform. Members of the judiciary, even retired justices, typically do not offer testimony on such divisive issues, but Stevens speaks with some experience.
He led the 2010 high court dissent when the conservative majority in the so-called Citizens United case eased long-standing restrictions on campaign spending by corporations, labor unions and certain non-profit advocacy groups.
In his prepared testimony, Stevens continued to criticize the court's conclusion that corporations deserve the same free speech rights in elections as individuals, saying, "While money is used to finance speech, money is not speech."
"Elections are contests between rival candidates for public office. Like rules that govern athletic contests or adversary litigation, those rules should create a level playing field," he added. "The interest in creating a level playing field justifies regulation of campaign speech that does not apply to speech about general issues that is not designed to affect the outcome of elections."
Democrats on the committee praised Stevens, with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, among those saying a host of recent court decisions on election money have helped "drown out" the voices of ordinary Americans unable to afford spending freely on politics.
But Republicans downplayed such concerns.
"Let's stop demonizing citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas. "Let's stop pretending more speech somehow threatens democracy."
The last time Stevens had appeared before the Senate was during his 1975 confirmation to the high court. He earned a reputation in his many years on the court as a soft-spoken gentleman justice, a trait that often masked a razor sharp intellect, and tactical skills on the bench to match.
"Always with a twinkle in his eye" said Cruz with a smile on his face, "he would ask a question: counsel, wouldn't you just agree with this small little thing– that if you said yes, would walk you down a road that would unravel the entire position of your case."
Stevens took no questions from the committee and was walking out the hearing when Cruz spoke, but appeared touched by the senator's remarks, and turned and nodded in his direction.
The committee's majority Democrats will soon introduce legislation to undo another high court decision released earlier this month, which eliminated so-called "aggregate" limits on how much money people can donate in total in one election season.
That ruling means a wealthy liberal or conservative donor can give as much money as desired to federal election candidates across the country, as long as no candidate receives more than the current $5,200 cap.
While most people lack the money to make such a large total donation to election campaigns, the court's precedent clears the way for more private money to enter the system.
Although no longer on the court, Stevens has criticized that ruling too.
His heightened public profile in recent weeks coincides with the release of his new book, "Six Amendments." In it, the retired justice proposes a half-dozen ways the Constitution can be improved, including striking down the "Citizens United" precedent, and allowing "reasonable limits" on money that can be spent by federal candidates and their private backers.
Stevens would also eliminate the death penalty, and change the Second Amendment to restrict the rights of individual gun owners - making the provision read "the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed."