A justice known for independence and skepticism toward established doctrines, Stevens has demonstrated a strong commitment to civil liberties and the protection of the least powerful persons in society.
Raised in a prominent Hyde Park, Chicago, family, John Paul Stephens attended the University of Chicago, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1941. During World War II, he earned a Bronze Star for his service as a code breaker in the Navy. While studying law at Northwestern University, he was editor in chief of the law review and graduated first in his class in 1947. Through the following two years he served as law clerk for Justice Wiley B. Rutledge
In 1969, Stevens first attracted public attention while serving as pro bono counsel on the Illinois Supreme Court’s special committee investigating a scandal that resulted in the resignation of two corrupt judges. In 1970, Richard M. Nixon
On November 12, 1975, following the resignation of Justice William O. Douglas
John Paul Stevens
Feminist leaders expressed disappointment at Stevens’s appointment. Margaret Drachsler
On December 17, 1975, the Senate confirmed Stevens’s appointment by a vote of ninety-nine to none. Two days later, Stevens took the oath of office and became the Court’s 101st member.
Stevens’s jurisprudence has often been characterized as idiosyncratic, and frequently he defended lonely and eccentric positions on issues. He has routinely published more dissents and concurring opinions than his fellow justices. Skeptical about abstractions and arguing that legal doctrines tend to simplify complex issues, he advocated the method of focusing on the circumstances of particular cases and controversies. He has been a skilled and lucid writer, and his opinions have been recognized for having literary quality.
During his early years on the Burger Court, Stevens was usually classified as a moderate conservative, but by the time that William H. Rehnquist became chief justice in 1986, Stevens was more often voting with the Court’s liberal wing. By the mid-1990’s, he was commonly described as the most liberal member of the Court. Stevens has been a fierce opponent of discrimination based on race, gender, and ethnicity. For many years he condemned affirmative action
In cases alleging discrimination under the equal protection clause
In many cases, Stevens criticized the Court’s use of three different levels of judicial scrutiny
In cases involving restraints on expression, Stevens’s record was somewhat mixed. In Young v. American Mini Theatres
By the early twenty-first century, Stevens could usually be counted on to support left-of-center positions. Writing for the majority in Rasul v. Bush
Through 2006, Stevens continued to participate actively on the Court as he entered his late eighties. To pass the record of Oliver Wendell Holmes
Bader, William H., and Roy M. Mersky, eds. The First One Hundred Eight Justices. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 2004. Canon, Bradley C. “Justice John Paul Stevens: The Lone Ranger in a Black Robe.” In The Burger Court: Political and Judicial Profiles, edited by Charles M. Lamb and Stephen C. Halpern. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Hensley, Thomas R. The Rehnquist Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2006. Itallia, Bob, and Paul Deegan. John Paul Stevens. New York: ABDO, 1992. Manaster, Kenneth. Illinois Justice: The Scandal of 1969 and the Rise of John Paul Stevens. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. Sickels, Robert Judd. John Paul Stevens and the Constitution: The Search for Balance. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988. Tushnet, Mark. A Court Divided: The Rehnquist Court and the Future of Constitutional Law. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005 Yarbrough, Tinsley. The Rehnquist Court and the Constitution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Burger, Warren E.
Bush v. Gore
Equal protection clause
Nominations to the Court
Rehnquist, William H.