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John Paul STEVENS Edit Profile

judge , lawyer

John Paul Stevens is a retired associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States who served from December 19, 1975 until his retirement on June 29, 2010. At the time of his retirement, he was the oldest Justice then serving, the second-oldest serving Justice in the history of the Court, and the third longest-serving Supreme Court Justice in history.


Stevens was born on April 20, 1920, in Hyde Park, Chicago, Illinois, to a wealthy family. His paternal grandfather had formed an insurance company and held real estate in Chicago, while his granduncle owned the Chas A. Stevens department store. His father, Ernest James Stevens (1884-1972), was a lawyer who later became a hotelier, owning two hotels, the La Salle and the Stevens Hotel. He lost ownership of the hotels during the Great Depression and was convicted of embezzlement (the conviction was later overturned). (The Stevens Hotel was subsequently bought by Hilton Hotels and is today the Chicago Hilton and Towers.) His mother, Elizabeth Maude (Street) Stevens (1881-1979), was a high school English teacher. Two of his three older brothers also became lawyers.


John Paul grew up near the University of Chicago and attended the university’s laboratory school for his preparatory education and then the university itself for his bachelor’s degree with an English major. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago in 1941.

The year of Stevens’s marriage to Elizabeth Sheeren saw the United States plunge into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. From 1942 to 1945, Stevens served in the navy, working on code-breaking and winning the bronze star. After the war, he enrolled in Northwestern University School of Law, where his father had studied. Tie was co-editor of the law review and graduated magna cum laude and first in his class in 1947, after compiling the highest academic average ever earned in the school. During the Supreme Court’s 1947 term, Stevens was a judicial clerk for Justice Wiley Rudedge.


After his clerkship with Rutledge, Stevens returned to Chicago to practice law as an associate in Poppenhusen, Johnston and Raymond from 1950 to 1952, and then as a partner in his own firm, Rothschild, Stevens, Barry, and Myers, from 1952 to 1970. He soon developed a specialty in antitrust matters and supplemented his law practice during these years by teaching antitrust law at Northwestern University Law School from 1950 to 1954 and at University of Chicago Law School from 1955 to 1958. During the same period he also served as associate counsel to the Subcommittee on the Study of Monopoly Power of the House Judiciary Committee from 1951 to 1952 and as a member of the Attorney General’s National Committee to Study Antitrust Law from 1953 to 1955.

John Paul Stevens’s transition from lawyer to judge occurred in 1970, when President Richard M. Nixon appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, In his five years on the federal court of appeals, Stevens earned a reputation as a hardworking, meticulous, and talented judge. Tins reputation stood him in good stead in 1975, when Associate Justice William O. Douglas retired from the Supreme Court, giving President Gerald R. Ford the opportunity to make his first, and what would be his only, appointment to the Supreme Court. Ford’s attorney general, Edward Levi, took the lead in developing a list of potential nominees and also took the then- unusual step of asking the American Bar Association for its evaluation of the candidates on the list. The American Bar Association ranked Stevens as “highly qualified;” President Ford subsequendy nominated him as an associate justice of the Supreme Court on November 28, 1975. A few weeks later the Senate confirmed his appointment by a vote of 98-0, and Stevens took the oath of office on December 19, 1975.


  • Other Work

    • Numerous articles on commercial monopoly affairs.


John Paul Stevens arrived on a Court divided between conservative and liberal poles with a broad center of moderate justices. On the conservative end lay Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justice Rehnquist. At the opposing extreme were Justices Thurgood Marshall and William J. Brennan, Jr. Making up the Court’s center were Justices Potter Stewart, Byron R. White, Harry A. Blackmun, and Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and John Paul Stevens was soon numbered as well among these centrists. Stevens, though, in the ever-shifting balance among conservatives, liberals, and moderates, proved to be the Court’s chief maverick. No other justice could name him as a consistent ally. Few escaped his razor-sharp rhetoric when they were on an opposing side from Stevens, who was more ready than any other justice to explain in a separate opinion why the course followed by other members of the Court in a particular case was erroneous.

After Associate Justice William Rehnquist became chief justice in 1986, the Court drifted toward a more conservative position on many issues, and Stevens found himself more often allied with the Court’s liberal justices. Under Rehnquist, a conservative majority on the Court revisited long-dormant questions concerning the appropriate balance between national and state legislative power in the federal system. Since President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal era, die Court had given Congress virtually free rein to legislate concerning a wide variety of subjects using its power under the Constitution’s commerce clause to regulate interstate commerce. But hi cases such as United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000), the Court declared two federal laws unconstitutional as exceeding Congress’s commerce power: die Gun Free Schools Zones Act in Lopez and die Violence Against Women Act in Morrison. Similarly, in Printz v. United States (1997), a majority of the Court fotuid that a portion of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which required local law' enforcement personnel to perform background checks on gun purchasers, exceeded Congress’s pow'er insofar as it attempted to commandeer state agents. Stevens persistently dissented against this new conservative form of judicial activism.

In the area of church-state relations, Justice Stevens found himself consistendy at odds with more conservative justices. He displayed unrelenting hostility' to any interaction between government and religion, a hostility so implacable that some critics accused him of being hostile to religion and religious liberty. His insistence of separation between government and religious affairs placed him in the Court’s majority w'hen the issue involved religious exercises in public school contexts. He authored, for example, the Court’s opinion in Santa Pc Independent School District v. Doe (2000), which found that a school’s arrangement to let students vote on whether to have an invocation before football games violated the First Amendment establishment clause. But as the Rehnquist court gradually eased the previously vigorous constitutional barriers to the receipt of government hinds by religious organizations, Stevens found himself in dissent.

Justice Stevens also demonstrated himself to be an ardent defender of abortion rights when, beginning in the late 1980s, the conservative momentum of the Rehnquist court entertained new restrictions on abortion. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey ( 1992), a fractured Court reconsidered die fundamental framework for abortion rights first established in Roe v. Wade (1973), when the Court first recognized a constitutional right to an abortion. Four justices in Casey were prepared to overrule Roe v. Wade: Chief Justice Rehnquist and Associate Justices White, Scalia, and Thomas. Three justices adopted a constitutional standard that made it easier for states to pass some restrictions on abortions, such as a 24-hour waiting period, but that reiterated the basic abortion right. Only' two justices—Blackmun, who authored tire original Roe opinion, and Stevens argued against any diminution in the strength of the abortion right.


Attorney General’s National Committee on Antitrust Laws 1953-1955.


In 1942 he married Elizabeth Jane Sheeren, and the couple had four children: John Joseph, Kathryn, Elizabeth Jane, and Susan Roberta.Stevens and his wife eventually divorced in 1979, and in 1980 he married Maryan Mulholland Simon.

Elizabeth Jane Sheeren, four

Maryan Mulholland Simon