HomeConstitutional LawLegal HistoryLegal EthicsEvidenceProfessional ResponsibilityContact MeSearch


Supreme Court Justices

John Paul Stevens (1920- )

John Paul Stevens was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 20, 1920, the son of Ernest and Elizabeth (Street) Stevens. Shortly after graduating from the University of Chicago in 1941, Stevens served in World War II as a junior naval officer. After returning from service, Stevens attended Northwestern University's law school. After graduation, he served as a law clerk to Justice Wiley Rutledge. He practiced law in Chicago for three years before returning to Washington, this time to work for Congress as a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee. After a year, Stevens returned to Illinois and the private practice of law.

In 1969, Stevens was appointed the chief investigator of a commission created to determine whether two Illinois Supreme Court judges had taken a bribe for their vote in a case. Stevens was able to prove that the judges had engaged in misconduct, and both resigned. The success of Stevens's investigation, just like the success of Charles Evans Hughes in investigating the life insurance scandals of 1905, propelled him to prominence and then to judicial office. Stevens became a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 1970. In later 1975, Gerald Ford nominated Stevens to the Court after the retirement of William O. Douglas.

Stevens's jurisprudence is impossible to categorize. Today, he is known for his support of affirmative action, but in the first affirmative action case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), Stevens excoriated the concept of affirmative action, analogizing it in one footnote to Nazi identification laws. He has generally supported privacy rights claims, but joined the plurality in the 5-4 decision in Michael H. v. Gerald D. (1989), in which the Court rejected the claim of a putative father that the presumption that a child born during a marriage is the product of the union. Michael H. claimed he was the father of a child, Victoria D., and California's law prohibited him from proving it. Stevens is idiosyncratic in many of his views, and his opinions, although brief and relatively easy to read, have been of slight influence. 

Stevens married Elizabeth Sheeren in 1942. They are the parents of four children. They divorced in 1979. He married Maryan Mulholland Simon in 1980. They live most of the year in Florida.

Further reading: Kenneth A. Manaster, Illinois Justice: The Scandal of 1969 and the Rise of John Paul Stevens (2001); Robert Judd Sickels, John Paul Stevens and the Constitution: A Search for Balance.