John Paul Stevens Dead: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Getty

John Paul Stevens, the retired Supreme Court Justice known for his outspoken and evolving views and his lengthy service to the Court, died Monday. He was 99.

Stevens was named to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford in 1975 and retired in 2010.

He was the second-oldest and third-longest serving Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. He served 35 years on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Stevens died in a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida due to complications of a stroke, according to a press release from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“On behalf of the Court and retired justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice John Paul Stevens has passed away,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said. “A son of the Midwest heartland and a veteran of WWII, Justice Stevens devoted his long life to public service, including 35 years on the Supreme Court. He brought to our bench an inimitable blend of kindness, humility, wisdom and independence. His unrelenting commitment to justice has left us a better nation. We extend our deepest condolences to his children, Elizabeth and Susan, and to his extended family.”

He had two living children, Elizabeth Jane Sesemann (Craig) and Susan Robert Mullen (Kevin). He had nine grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. His family was by his side when he died at Holy Cross Hospital.

Stevens was born April 20, 1920 in Chicago, Illinois. He was in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945. He then served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge in 1947. Stevens was admitted to practice law in 1949 in Illinois. He became Associate Counsel to the Subcommittee on the Study of Monopoly Power of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1951 to 1952. He was a member of the Attorney General’s National Committee to Study Antitrust Law from 1953 to 1955. He served as second Vice President of the Chicago Bar Association in 1970. From 1970 to 1975, he served as Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Court.

He also wrote three books: “The Making of a Justice: Reflections On My First 94 Years,” published in 2019; “Six Amendments: How and Why Would Should Change the Constitution,” published in 2014; and “Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir,” published in 2011.

Funeral arrangements for Justice Stevens have not yet been announced.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Justice John Paul Stevens Was One of the Longest Serving Supreme Court Judges in History

Getty

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was one of the longest serving U.S. Supreme Court judges in history. He was appointed in 1975 by President Gerald Ford and retired in 2010. In that time, his politics evolved from being a conservative Ford appointee to a reliable liberal. A defining mark of his career was his political evolution. Following the election of President Donald Trump, he became an outspoken opponent of some of the Trump’s viewpoints.

President Barack Obama awarded Justice John Paul Stevens the Presidential Medal of Freedom upon his retirement in 2012, the highest honor that can be given to civilians, in part due to his lengthy service to the Court.

“Known for his independent, pragmatic and rigorous approach to judging, Justice Stevens and his work have left a lasting imprint on the law in areas such as civil rights, the First Amendment, the death penalty, administrative law, and the separation of powers,” the White House said in a statement.

2. Justice Stevens Was Appointed to the Supreme Court As A Republican And Evolved to Liberal Ideals

Justice John Paul Stevens' Children

Getty

Between Justice John Paul Stevens’ appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 by President Gerald Ford and his retirement in 2012, his views evolved from conservative to liberal. In the early 2000s, Stevens was instrumental in court actions to uphold affirmative action in higher education, approve a federal campaign finance law, abolish the death penalty for minors and the mentally disabled, reject key claims of the property-rights movement, and give suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay access to the federal court system.

“He’s a remarkable figure,” Dennis Hutchinson, a law professor and Supreme Court historian at the University of Chicago told the Washington Post in 2006. “If you looked at his first three or four years on the court, you’d say he was a quirky middle-of-the-roader with no vision and not interested in playing the game. But 30 years later, he’s moved into a very influential position. On a court with no true liberals in the ’60s sense of the word, he’s gotten as much out of the court in terms of left-wing results as anyone could.”

His earlier career showcased some conservative-based decisions. He voted to reauthorize the death penalty in 1976 four years after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty. Later he voted against strict affirmative-action plans in university admissions and government contracting.

In May, he told the Wall Street Journal he was concerned about the court. He said Trump “has to comply with subpoenas.”


3. Stevens Voiced Strong Opinions In Retirement & Called Brett Kavanaugh Unfit to Serve

Justice John Paul Stevens was outspoken and often dissenting both in his time as a Supreme Court Justice and in retirement. He told the New York Times in 2018 Brett Kavanaugh was unfit to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. He told the newspaper he had changed his mind about Kavanaugh and came to his decision reluctantly, but said Kavanaugh was unqualified for the role on the nation’s highest court.

He also spoke out against Trump’s tweets and remarked about the travel ban in 2017, telling Time Trump did not properly understand civics and that the president’s response to legal setbacks was “improper.”

“I don’t think whoever makes those comments is helping the institution or helping the public understand the correct role of the court or the importance or independence of the judges,” he told Time.

Stevens also said he disagreed with the travel ban.

“Of course the court has to consider the national security issues, but I don’t see the argument finding the danger to our security by allowing Muslims into the country,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to me that’s a very good test of how dangerous the immigrants are.”

He went on to say the Senate Republicans blocking of the nomination of Merrick Garland made “the general public think that the [Supreme Court] is more of a partisan institution than it really is or should be.”

“He really should have been confirmed,” he added.


4. Justice Stevens Famously Wrote An Op-Ed Calling For Repeal of the 2nd Amendment

GettyJohn Paul Stevens

On March 27, 2018, about 6 weeks after a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida killed 17 students and staff members, and days after March For Our Lives demonstrations, Stevens wrote an editorial published by the New York Times calling on for a repeal of the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Stevens wrote in the New York Times:

Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect. They reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of schoolchildren and others in our society.

That support is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms. But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.

Years before the shooting, Stevens wrote the primary dissenting opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, a landmark case in 2008 which amended the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms. The Court recognized an individual right to possess a firearm under the Constitution in the decision.

In May, Stevens wrote an opinion piece in The Atlantic calling that decision “unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Supreme Court announced during my tenure on the bench.”

Stevens wrote in part:

The text of the Second Amendment unambiguously explains its purpose: ‘A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ When it was adopted, the country was concerned that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several states.

Throughout most of American history there was no federal objection to laws regulating the civilian use of firearms. When I joined the Supreme Court in 1975, both state and federal judges accepted the Court’s unanimous decision in United States v. Miller as having established that the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of the militia and applied only to weapons used by the militia. In that case, the Court upheld the indictment of a man who possessed a short-barreled shotgun, writing, ‘In the absence of any evidence that the possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.’

Colonial history contains many examples of firearm regulations in urban areas that imposed obstacles to their use for protection of the home. Boston, Philadelphia, and New York—the three largest cities in America at that time—all imposed restrictions on the firing of guns in the city limits. Boston enacted a law in 1746 prohibiting the “discharge” of any gun or pistol that was later revived in 1778; Philadelphia prohibited firing a gun or setting off fireworks without a governor’s special license; and New York banned the firing of guns for three days surrounding New Year’s Day. Those and other cities also regulated the storage of gunpowder. Boston’s gunpowder law imposed a 10-pound fine on any person who took any loaded firearm into any dwelling house or barn within the town. Most, if not all, of those regulations would violate the Second Amendment as it was construed in the 5–4 decision that Justice Antonin Scalia announced in Heller on June 26, 2008.

Colonial history contains many examples of firearm regulations in urban areas that imposed obstacles to their use for protection of the home. Boston, Philadelphia, and New York—the three largest cities in America at that time—all imposed restrictions on the firing of guns in the city limits. Boston enacted a law in 1746 prohibiting the “discharge” of any gun or pistol that was later revived in 1778; Philadelphia prohibited firing a gun or setting off fireworks without a governor’s special license; and New York banned the firing of guns for three days surrounding New Year’s Day. Those and other cities also regulated the storage of gunpowder. Boston’s gunpowder law imposed a 10-pound fine on any person who took any loaded firearm into any dwelling house or barn within the town. Most, if not all, of those regulations would violate the Second Amendment as it was construed in the 5–4 decision that Justice Antonin Scalia announced in Heller on June 26, 2008.


5. He Was Raised in Chicago, Had 4 Children & Earned a Bronze Star

John Paul Stevens was born April 20, 1920 in Hyde Park, a Chicago, Illinois neighborhood. He was granted his first entry into law with a coin toss, according to the Chicago Tribune. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge had asked the Northwestern University Law School professors if any of them had a student in mind who might make a good candidate to work as his clerk. They had two, but couldn’t decide on one, so they flipped a coin.

Before his law career began, he served in the U.S. Navy. He enlisted Dec. 6, 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He earned a Bronze Star for his code-breaking work as an intelligence officer in the Pacific Theater.

Stevens married Elizabeth Jane Shereen in June 1942. The couple divorced in 1979, and he married Maryan Mulholland Simon December of the same year. The two were married until her death in 2015. She died from complications of hip surgery.

He had four children, John Joseph, Kathryn Jedlicka, Elizabeth and Susan. Kathryn died in 2018, and John Joseph died of cancer in 1996. He had nine grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.