WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Justice John Paul Stevens, a Republican appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court who later became an outspoken leader of the liberal wing as the court moved to the right, died on Tuesday at age 99.
Chief Justice John Roberts poses for a 2006 class photo inside the Supreme Court in Washington March 3, 2006. REUTERS/Larry Downing
Stevens, who retired from the court in 2010 at the age of 90, died at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, of complications from a stroke he suffered on Monday, a statement issued by the Supreme Court said.
Appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1975, Stevens became one of the longest-serving justices in U.S. history. Still in good health when he left the bench, he carved out a new role as a critic of some of his former colleagues on issues such as voting rights, campaign finance and the death penalty.
“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,” Chief Justice John Roberts said in the statement.
The idiosyncratic Stevens, known for wearing a bow tie with his traditional black robes, initially built a record as a maverick with a reputation as a non-partisan, highly independent jurist. His views evolved during his time on the bench, not least on the death penalty, which he initially supported. In 2008, he announced that he believed it was unconstitutional.
Once at the ideological center of the court, Stevens, one of its sharpest thinkers and best writers, often authored separate concurring or dissenting opinions that reflected his hard-to-label judicial philosophy.
But as the court moved to the right in the early 1990s under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Stevens became the leader of the liberal faction that included three other justices. That continued when Roberts replaced Rehnquist in 2005, with the nine justices often sharply divided on social issues.
Stevens embraced other liberal positions by supporting abortion and gay rights, gun restrictions, limits on government aid for religion and legalization of marijuana.
He retired in 2010, allowing Democratic President Barack Obama to pick his replacement, liberal Justice Elena Kagan.
OUTSPOKEN IN RETIREMENT
After leaving the bench, Stevens became more outspoken in his views. In 2014, he published “Six Amendments,” his proposals for changing the U.S. Constitution to tighten gun control and limit money in politics, among other things. In 2018, he advocated repealing the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
The last time Stevens made headlines was in October last year when he intervened in the confirmation fight over President Donald Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. He said Kavanaugh, who faced allegations of sexual misconduct dating back to his teenage years, should not be confirmed by the U.S. Senate because of partisan comments the nominee made at his confirmation hearing.
Born on April 20, 1920, to a wealthy family in Chicago, Stevens served in the U.S. Navy during World War Two and helped cracked Japanese communication codes. He graduated from Northwestern University’s law school and worked at the Supreme Court as a law clerk to Justice Wiley Rutledge in 1947-48.
He came to prominence as a member of a commission that forced the resignation of two Illinois Supreme Court justices
Stevens’ tenure on the Supreme Court began on Dec. 19, 1975, after his nomination was quickly and unanimously approved by the Senate.
He came to Ford’s attention after distinguishing himself on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, a position to which he was appointed in 1970 by President Richard Nixon.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Peter Cooney