Happy birthday, Justice John Paul Stevens

NCC Staff

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is celebrating a big milestone today, as the Chicago native turns 99 years old.

Justice Stevens retired from the bench at the age of 90 in June 2010. But he has remained active as an author and speaker since.

Born on April 20, 1920, in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, Stevens grew up in an affluent family, but the Stevens family later suffered financial hardships in the 1930s. An excellent student, Stevens graduated from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University Law, and he also served in the United States Navy as a code breaker. He then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge before going into private practice.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon appointed Stevens to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and on November 28, 1975, President Gerald Ford made his only Supreme Court nomination when he selected Stevens to the nation’s highest court. Stevens replaced William O. Douglas on the bench.

Ford has asked Attorney General Edward Levi for a list of prospective candidates. Stevens, Third Circuit Judge Arlin Adams, Maine Attorney Vincent McKusick, and former Solicitor General Robert Bork topped the list. Stevens and Adams were the final two candidates, with Levi reportedly favoring Stevens, since they were both from Chicago. Stevens took his seat on the Supreme Court after the Senate approved his nomination in 98-0 vote. In his 34 years and six months on the Court, he was the third-longest serving Justice in the Court’s history.

During his time on the Court, Stevens eventually became associated with the Court’s liberal wing. But he wrote a strong dissent in the Texas v. Johnson flag-burning case. “The ideas of liberty and equality have been an irresistible force,” Stevens wrote. “If those ideas are worth fighting for—and our history demonstrates that they are—it cannot be true that the flag that uniquely symbolizes their power is not itself worthy of protection from unnecessary desecration.”

Stevens was also known as a death-penalty opponent, and he wrote a dissent in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision that led to vote counting in Florida that settled a presidential election.

“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. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law,” Stevens said.

After his retirement from the bench at the age of 90 in June 2010, Stevens has remained active. Stevens presided over a moot court at Harvard at the age of 96, and he saw a lifetime dream come true as a Chicago Cubs fan when his team won the World Series.