John Paul Stevens has died; Retired Supreme Court justice who led court’s liberal wing dies at 99; Cause of death complications from stroke – CBS News

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1975 as a moderate but later became a leading liberal voice, has died, the Supreme Court said Tuesday. He was 99.

The cause of death was complications from a stroke he suffered on Monday, the Supreme Court said.  His daughters were by his side at the time of his death. 

“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,” said Chief Justice John Roberts in a statement. 

Stevens served on the Supreme Court until he retired at the age of 90 in 2010. Upon his retirement, former President Obama praised him as an “impartial guardian of the law” who served the nation with “honor and humility.”

Mr. Obama said at the time he wanted to appoint a justice who possessed, like Stevens, “an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.” 

Mr. Obama ultimately chose Justice Elena Kagan as Stevens’ replacement.

In nearly 35 years on the Supreme Court, Stevens became increasingly liberal. After his retirement in 2010, he told “60 Minutes” that the justices who ruled in the majority on the case that decided the 2000 election were “profoundly wrong.” 

In his retirement, he made headlines for calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment and saying Justice Brett Kavanaugh should not be confirmed

“At that time, I thought (Kavanaugh) had the qualifications for the Supreme Court should he be selected,” Stevens said in October 2018. “I’ve changed my views for reasons that have no relationship to his intellectual ability…I feel his performance in the hearings ultimately changed my mind.”

Stevens was born in Chicago on April 20, 1920, to a wealthy father who had built what was then the largest hotel in the world. 

Gangsters robbed the family at gunpoint when he was 12 years old. “And we were all lined up and they threatened to kill, to shoot everybody with a sub-machine gun,” he told “60 Minutes.” As they faced a machine gun, a neighbor just happened to come to the door and the men fled. 

Stevens’ father lost his wealth in the Great Depression, and was later arrested for embezzlement. His conviction was overruled on appeal. Stevens told “60 Minutes” the experience taught him that “every judge has to keep in mind the possibility that the system has not worked correctly in a particular case.”

Stevens graduated from the University of Chicago, and then served in the U.S. Navy in World War II from 1942 to 1945, an experience that sometimes found its way into his writings.  

John Paul Stevens

FILE – In this May 3, 2010 file photo, retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens speaks during the annual meeting of the 7th Circuit Bar Association & Judicial Conference of the 7th Circuit, in Chicago. Liberals fear that after helping elect President Barack Obama he’ll abandon them when he nominates a Supreme Court justice, choosing a consensus-building moderate rather than a liberal in the mold of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. (AP Photo/David Banks, File)

David Banks


He later earned his law degree from Northwestern University, graduating first in his class. He taught antitrust law at both the University of Chicago and Northwestern. 

Stevens served as a United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from 1970 to 1975, when he was nominated by Ford to the Supreme Court. 

In his time on the court, he wrote over 400 majority opinions. In 1997, he was part of the unanimous ruling against former President Clinton in Clinton v. Jones, where Mr. Clinton sought to delay a sexual harassment lawsuit from Paula Jones by saying it would burden the presidency.

“In the entire history of the republic, only three sitting presidents have been subjected to suits for their private actions,” Stevens said. “As for the case at hand … there’s nothing in the record to identify any potential harm that might ensue from scheduling the trial promptly.”

The next president, George W. Bush, was the subject of one of Stevens’ harshest dissents, in 2000’s Bush v. Gore. The Bush campaign sought to delay the recount of ballots in Florida, arguing the recount would cause irreparable harm to the nation. 

Stevens disagreed, saying the court should have denied the stay and let the recount go on. “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 clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as impartial guardian of the rule of law,” Stevens wrote in his dissent. 

Upon his retirement 10 years later, he still maintained that was the correct response.

Asked by “60 Minutes” if the court’s decision was a partisan one, Stevens said, “I wouldn’t really say that. I don’t question the good faith of the people, the justices with whom I disagreed. But I think they were profoundly wrong.”

He ruled against the Bush administration in two cases involving the war on terror. He wrote the 2004 decision that terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay did have legal rights. Two years later, he ruled the Bush administration’s military tribunals at the naval base violated U.S. and international law.  

Before his retirement in 2010, he delivered a 20-minute long dissent in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which struck down the century-old ban on corporate spending in elections.

“Simply put, corporations are not human beings,” he said. “In the context of an election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Corporations cannot vote or run for office because they are managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interest may conflict in fundamental ways with the interest of voters. … The rule announced today that Congress must treat corporate speakers exactly like human beings in the political realm represents … a radical change in the law.”

He told NPR in 2010 his only regret was his 1976 decision to revive the death penalty. More than 20 years later in 2002, he wrote the majority opinion ruling that the Constitution does not permit executing the mentally disabled.

A dedicated Cubs fan — he attended the 1932 World Series game when Babe Ruth pointed to the place in the stands where he planned to hit a home run — he threw out a first pitch in 2005. He was also an avid bridge and tennis player and a licensed pilot. 

In 1979, Stevens and his wife, Elizabeth Jane Sheeren, divorced, making him only the second Supreme Court Justice to divorce while sitting on the court. He later married Maryan Mulholland Simon.

Both his first wife and his second wife preceded him in death, as did his son, John Joseph, and his daughter, Kathryn. 

He is survived by his children, Elizabeth Jane Sesemann and Susan Roberta Mullen, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. 

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