John Paul Stevens

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John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens.jpg
Former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
From: December 19, 1975–June 29, 2010
Nominator Gerald Ford
Predecessor William O. Douglas
Successor Elena Kagan
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Jane Sheeren (div.)
Maryan Mulholland Simon
Religion Protestant
Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Service Years 1942-1945
Rank Lieutenant Commander

John Paul Stevens (April 20, 1920 – July 16, 2019) was one of the longest-serving Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (1975–2010). Upon his retirement, the Court lost its only full veteran of the Armed Services.[1] Stevens had a very liberal record as a Supreme Court justice.[2] He was also one of the few Justices in the last half century who did not attend Harvard or Yale Law School, having instead graduated valedictorian from Northwestern Law School.


In 1970, Richard Nixon appointed Stevens to the federal Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 1970, where he rendered a decision influential to the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment. President Gerald Ford appointed Stevens to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice William Douglas in 1975, and Stevens was easily confirmed.

Political stance and notable opinions

Though he was appointed by a Republican President, was a registered Republican himself, and held a somewhat conservative voting record as an appellate judge, Stevens consistently voted with the liberal wing of the Court, particularly on abortion, the Establishment Clause, the Second Amendment, and other social issues. A rare exception to his voting with the liberal bloc was on issues endangering patriotism, such as his vote to uphold laws against flag-burning. (Stevens won a Bronze Star for his service in the Navy during World War II, as described below.)

He was often unpredictable and could express unusual views. For example, only Justice Stevens declared that it violated the Establishment Clause for a state to recognize that life begins at conception:[3]

I am persuaded that the absence of any secular purpose for the legislative declarations that life begins at conception and that conception occurs at fertilization makes the relevant portion of the preamble invalid under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution. This conclusion does not, and could not, rest on the fact that the statement happens to coincide with the tenets of certain religions, see McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 442 (1961); Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 319-320 (1980), or on the fact that the legislators who voted to enact it may have been motivated by religious considerations, see Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 253 (1976) (Stevens, J., concurring). Rather, it rests on the fact that the preamble, an unequivocal endorsement of a religious tenet of some but by no means all Christian faiths, 11 serves no identifiable secular purpose. That fact alone compels a conclusion that the statute violates the Establishment Clause.

Often writing in dissent, Stevens wrote few significant majority decisions for the Court. During his 35 years as a Supreme Court Justice, his most important Court decisions were Atkins v. Virginia (2002) (holding that the execution of mentally retarded defendants was unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment); Clinton v. Jones (1997) (holding that a president is not exempt from civil litigation); and Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) (invalidating a state law mandating a minute of silence in public schools "for meditation or silent prayer"). Justice Stevens voted in favor of the constitutionality of the death penalty in 1976,[4] but later took the position that it is always unconstitutional.

Justice Stevens dissented alone from an 8–1 decision reversing application the racketeering law (designed to use against mobsters) to pro-life protesters. In other words, he felt that this law should apply against pro-lifers, relying heavily on his own dissents from prior Supreme Court decisions:

In my opinion Judge Kearse's analysis of the issue is manifestly correct. Even if the issue were close, however, three additional considerations provide strong support for her conclusion. First, the uniform construction of the statute that has prevailed throughout the country for decades should remain the law unless and until Congress decides to amend the statute. See Reves v. Ernst & Young, 494 U.S. 56, 74, 108 L. Ed. 2d 47, 110 S. Ct. 945 (1990) (STEVENS, J., concurring); Chesapeake & Ohio R. Co. v. Schwalb, 493 U.S. 40, 51, 107 L. Ed. 2d 278, 110 S. Ct. 381 (1989) (STEVENS, J., concurring in judgment); McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350, 376-377, 97 L. Ed. 2d 292, 107 S. Ct. 2875 (1987) (STEVENS, J., dissenting); 2 Shearson/American Express Inc. v. McMahon, 482 U.S. 220, 268-269, 96 L. Ed. 2d 185, 107 S. Ct. 2332 (1987) (STEVENS, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). ...

Scheidler v. NOW, Inc., 537 U.S. 393, 416-17 (Stevens, J., dissenting)

He also dissented alone from a decision upholding a blanket exclusion of defendant's polygraph evidence in military trials.[5]

After retiring, Stevens stated that, in his view, the three worst Supreme Court decisions during his service were Bush v. Gore, District of Columbia v. Heller, and Citizens United v. FEC, all decisions hated by the Left.[6] However, he strangely wrote in his memoirs that he was deeply dissatisfied with the treatment of Robert Bork, and even condemned the Democrat-led Senate for blocking him, calling Bork "eminently qualified". He even went as far as to imply that it even weakened the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, surprisingly.[7] He also criticized the Democrats' plan for court-packing.[8]

Anti-Second Amendment advocacy

In 2014, Stevens campaigned for changing the Second Amendment to eliminate any protections of the individual right to own firearms.[9] In March 2018, he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times calling outright for repealing the Second Amendment.[10]

Personal life

Stevens was from a wealthy family that once owned an insurance business and the hotel that is now the Chicago Hilton. In his youth, the business endured some financial difficulties that left an impression on the young lawyer.[11] Stevens graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1941. He had a son and three daughters by his first wife, whom he divorced a few years after joining the Supreme Court and then Stevens remarried soon thereafter.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II (1942–45), having served the Navy as part of a code-breaking team, for which he earned the Bronze Star.

He graduated with the highest grades in the history of Northwestern University Law School and specialized in antitrust law as a practicing attorney and later as a professor and special counsel to the House of Representatives and the U.S. Attorney General's office.

Stevens died on July 16, 2019.[12]


  1. Justice Anthony Kennedy once served in the National Guard in California.
  2. Watkins, William J. (July 29, 2019). How a misstep can shape the Supreme Court. The Washington Times. Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  3. Webster v. Reprod. Health Servs., 492 U.S. 490, 566-67 (1989) (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)
  4. See Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976)
  5. United States v. Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303 (1998).
  6. Birnbaum, Emily (November 26, 2018). Retired Justice Stevens: Gun control case, Gore v. Bush among three biggest ‘errors’ Supreme Court made during his tenure. The Hill. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  7. [[1]] The Washington Examiner. Retrieved July 3rd, 2020.
  8. CNN. Retrieved July 3rd, 2020.
  9. Hawkins, Awr (March 27, 2018). Flashback 2014: Justice Stevens Wanted to Change 2nd Amendment to Eliminate Individual Right. Breitbart News. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
  10. Multiple references: See also:
  11. Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine.
  12. Multiple references: