In 35 years of opinions and dissents, John Paul Stevens left his mark on the Supreme Court and American life

Richard Wolf

WASHINGTON – He was nominated by Republican President Gerald Ford and retired under Democratic President Barack Obama, who was a teenager when John Paul Stevens began his 35 years of service on the Supreme Court.

In between, Stevens – who died Tuesday at 99 after suffering a stroke – had a major impact on most areas of American life, even as he evolved from a self-described conservative to become the leader of the court's liberal wing.

Stevens voted to reinstate the death penalty in 1976, a decision he came to rue as he authored opinions decades later limiting its use. He voted against minority set-asides in college admissions in 1978 but upheld a similar policy a quarter century later. 

Through it all, Stevens maintained the support of Ford and won the confidence of Obama, even while tormenting some of the presidents who came in between. 

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Here are some of the late justice's most notable opinions and dissents from his Supreme Court years from 1975 to 2010:

10 opinions

Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 1984: In a unanimous verdict, Stevens set the standard for federal agencies' discretion to interpret ambiguous laws passed by Congress. 

Clinton v. Jones, 1997: Another unanimous decision rejected President Bill Clinton's effort to delay a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee.

"The doctrine of separation of powers does not require federal courts to stay all private actions against the president until he leaves office," Stevens wrote.

Former Supreme Court associate justice John Paul Stevens was presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Apprendi v. New Jersey, 2000: The court ruled 5-4 that in order to increase criminal penalties beyond what's prescribed by law, prosecutors must submit additional facts to a jury and prove them beyond reasonable doubt.

Atkins v. Virginia, 2002: States cannot execute prisoners who are intellectually disabled, the court ruled in a 6-3 decision, because it violates the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Kelo v. New London, 2005: Stevens' controversial 5-4 opinion allowed local governments to take over private property for economic development purposes.

Former Supreme Court associate justice John Paul Stevens was interviewed by USA TODAY in his chambers at the court in Washington on April 17, 2014.

Gonzales v. Raich, 2005: Congress, in a 6-3 decision, was given authority to prohibit the cultivation and use of marijuana, despite a California law allowing it for medical reasons.

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 2006: In a 5-3 ruling, the court struck down the use of President George W. Bush's military commissions to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

"In undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction," Stevens wrote.

Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007: Another 5-4 ruling allowed the state to sue the federal government over the impact of global warming.  

Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 2008: The court upheld, 6-3, an Indiana county's requirement that voters present photo identification to help prevent voter fraud.

Arizona v. Gant, 2009: The court ruled 5-4 that police can search vehicles after a driver's arrest if necessary to ensure the officer's safety or to protect potential evidence.

Five dissents

Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, right, swore in the nation's new chief justice, John Roberts, at the White House in 2005.

Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986: Stevens dissented from the court's 5-4 ruling that allowed states to outlaw acts of sodomy among homosexuals. The decision was overruled 17 years later.

Texas v. Johnson, 1989: The court ruled 5-4 that burning the American flag is a form of protected free speech, but Stevens – a veteran of World War II – argued that the flag is "worthy of protection from unnecessary desecration."

Bush v. Gore, 2000: Stevens was among four liberal justices who sought a recount in Florida that could have flipped the result of the presidential election. He and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were the only two siding with the state Supreme Court's proposed recount.

"Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear," Stevens wrote. "It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008: In a 5-4 verdict he came to regret more than any other, Stevens argued in dissent that the Second Amendment does not give citizens the right to possess guns for self-defense.

"The court would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons," he wrote. "I could not possibly conclude that the Framers made such a choice."

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 2010: When the court ruled 5-4 that independent election spending by corporations cannot be limited, Stevens argued that corporations lacked the rights of individual citizens.

"While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics," he wrote.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: John Paul Stevens: The Supreme Court justice's top opinions, dissents