John Paul Stevens

Media Items
Personal Information
Tuesday, April 20, 1920
Childhood Location 
Childhood Surroundings 
Ernest J. Stevens
Father's Occupation 
Elizabeth Street
Family Status 
Associate Justice
Nominated By 
Commissioned on 
Wednesday, December 17, 1975
Sworn In 
Friday, December 19, 1975
Left Office 
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Reason For Leaving 
Length of Service 
34 years, 6 months, 10 days

Cases Argued

John Paul Stevens
James Ingwersen (1991), Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

John Paul Stevens was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1975. As the newest member of the Court, Stevens had the duty of keeping minutes and answering the door in the justices' closed conference. Stevens had to wait six years, until the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor, before he relinquished his freshman spot. Today, Stevens is the most senior justice, both in age and years of service. In seniority, he is second only to Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. Stevens now speaks second in conference after Roberts; and, Stevens can assign opinions in the event that he is in the majority and Roberts is in minority. Still, Stevens' influence remains uncertain. Many observers point to his quirky and unconventional jurisprudence as a constraint on his ability to lead the Court. They argue that Stevens' individualistic personality keeps him permanently outside the mainstream of the Court and that he lacks the characteristics of a coalition-builder. However, as the Court has turned further to the right with the appointments of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Stevens has emerged as the voice of moderation on an increasing conservative bench.

John Paul Stevens was born on April 20, 1920, in Chicago, Illinois, as the youngest of Ernest and Elizabeth Stevens' four sons. Stevens grew up in a wealthy family. His father made a fortune in the insurance and hotel business and owned the Stevens Hotel, which has since become the Chicago Hilton. The Stevens lived near the University of Chicago campus and sent their sons to the university's laboratory school for preparatory education. Stevens attended college at the University of Chicago, following his father's footsteps, and joined his father's fraternity. He participated in a wide variety of campus activities and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1941. A year after his graduation, Stevens married Elizabeth Sheeren, with whom he had a son and three daughters.

Stevens enlisted in the Navy during World War II. In his position as part of a Navy code-breaking team, Stevens earned the Bronze Star. Following the war, he again followed his father's path and entered Northwestern University Law School to study law. Stevens distinguished himself at Northwestern by becoming editor-in-chief of the school's law review and graduating with the highest grades in the law school's history. After graduating, he served a term as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge.

Stevens joined a prominent law firm in Chicago specializing in antitrust law and creating a reputation as a talented antitrust lawyer. He left the firm to start his own practice after three years and also began teaching law at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago law schools. His abilities in antitrust laws earned him positions with various special counsels to the House of Representatives and the U.S. Attorney General's office.

Stevens became known as a fair-minded and able counsel. Richard Nixon appointed him to the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 1970. On the appeals court, Stevens continued to establish his reputation as a notable legal thinker. When Justice William Douglas stepped down from the Court in 1975. Attorney General Edward Levi proposed Stevens' appointment to the High Court. President Gerald Ford acted on Levi's advice and the Senate confirmed Stevens' appointment without controversy.

As a justice, Stevens has avoided simple conservative or liberal labels. As the Court moved toward the right during the Reagan and Bush presidencies, however, Stevens appeared more and more liberal relative to the make-up of the Court. Although Stevens is the difficult to predict, his approach to judicial decision-making can be summarized in a general sense. Stevens will typically examine the facts of each case carefully and on its own merits. He also seeks to defer to the judgments of others who he feels are better suited to decide. He has demonstrated considerable judicial restraint and deference to the Congress.

After 34 years, 6 months, and 11 days of service on the Court, Stevens stepped down on June 29, 2010. He is now tied with Justice Stephen J. Field for second place on the all-time list for continuous service, superseded only by Justice William O. Douglas. If Douglas is the Cal Ripken Jr. of the Supreme Court, that would make Stevens the Court's Lou Gehrig.

Justice Stevens has not departed from the spotlight, however. He has written two books -- Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir and Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution -- and several critical book reviews and commentaries. In 2014, Stevens testified before a Senate committee to express his pointed criticism of more recent Supreme Court decisions undoing spending limits in political campaigns.

Clerksort icon Law School Terms Clerked
Richard (Brad) Kapnick Chicago (1983) 1984
Randolph D. Moss Yale (1986) 1988
Preeta D. Bansal Harvard (1989) 1990
Peter D. Isakoff Columbia (1978) 1979
Pamela A. Harris Yale (1990) 1992
Olatunde Johnson Stanford (1995) 1996
Nicholas J. Bagley NYU (2005) 2006
Nancy S. Marder Yale (1987) 1990, 1991
Michele L. Odorizzi Chicago (1976) 1979
Michael J. Gottlieb Harvard (2003) 2004
Merritt McAlister Georgia (2007) 2009
Melissa R. Hart Harvard (1995) 1996
Melissa B. Arbus Virginia (2003) 2004
Matthew Verschelden Virginia (1980) 1981
Matthew D. Roberts Harvard (1989) 1990

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Cite this Page
John Paul Stevens. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 29 March 2015. <>.
John Paul Stevens, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited March 29, 2015).
"John Paul Stevens," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed March 29, 2015,