/John Paul Stevens has died; Retired Supreme Court justice who led courts liberal wing dies at 99; Cause of death complications from stroke

John Paul Stevens has died; Retired Supreme Court justice who led courts liberal wing dies at 99; Cause of death complications from stroke


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.  

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.