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John Paul Stevens

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John Paul Stevens
John Paul Stevens.jpg
Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
From: December 19, 1975-present
Nominator Gerald Ford
Predecessor William O. Douglas
Successor Incumbent (no successor)
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Jane Sheeren (div.)
Maryan Mulholland Simon
Religion Protestant

The Honorable John Paul Stevens (b. April 20, 1920) is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1975-), and as of 2008 is the only veteran on the Supreme Court.

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.

Though appointed by a Republican President, Stevens consistently votes with the liberal wing of the Court, particularly on abortion, the Establishment Clause and other social issues. A rare exception to his voting with the liberal bloc is on issues endangering patriotism, such as Justice Stevens' vote to uphold laws against flag-burning. (Justice Stevens won a Bronze Star for his service in the Navy during World War II, as described below.)

Justice Stevens is often unpredictable and can express unusual views, and has concurred or dissented in 1284 cases as of August 2007. For example, only Justice Stevens declared that violated the Establishment Clause for a state to recognize that life begins at conception:[1]

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.

Justice Stevens dissented alone from a decision upholding a blanket exclusion of defendant's polygraph evidence in military trials.[2]


Stevens is from a wealthy family that once owned and insurance business and the hotel that is now the Chicago Hilton: during his young lifetime, the business endured some financial difficulties that left an impression on the young lawyer.[3] 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 remarried a year later.

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.


  1. Webster v. Reprod. Health Servs., 492 U.S. 490, 566-67 (1989) (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)
  2. United States v. Scheffer, 523 U.S. 303 (1998).
  3. Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine.