John Paul Stevens, who served as a Supreme Court Justice from 1975 to 2010, will give a talk at 1:30 p.m. April 25, in Graham Chapel. After his brief remarks, titled “Some Thoughts about a Former Colleague,” he will be joined on stage by Nancy Staudt, dean of WashU’s School of Law, and law school professors Greg Magarian and David Konig, for a discussion centering on the second amendment.
When John Paul Stevens joined the Supreme Court in 1975, filling the vacancy left by retiring Justice William O. Douglas, the conventional wisdom was that the conservative Republican would add balance to a liberal Court. The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong, for throughout his long tenure, Stevens often supported the rights of the individual, which found him in the liberal camp when it came to such significant judgments as supporting abortion rights, opposing the death penalty, and upholding the rights of the disabled.
And in 2000 he joined Justices Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer to renounce the Court’s ruling to overturn the Florida Supreme Court decision to mandate a recount of the state’s ballots in the 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election. In his dissent he wrote:
“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 perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law. I respectfully dissent.”
John Paul Stevens was born into a prominent Chicago family in 1920, but as a teenager during the Great Depression his family’s fortunes turned into tragedy when his father was convicted of embezzlement — a conviction that the young Stevens believed to be unjust and which left a lasting impression regarding the American justice system.
After graduating from the University of Chicago, Stevens served in the Navy as a codebreaker during World War II; his contributions earned him a Bronze Star. After the war he received his JD from Northwestern University School of Law. His first job was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge Jr, then he returned to Chicago and entered the private sector as an antitrust lawyer, and later, started his own firm. In 1970 he was appointed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by President Richard Nixon, and five years later he was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford.
Stevens retired from the court in 2010, after serving 35 years, becoming the third-longest serving justice in the Court’s history. Since then he has authored two books: Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, and Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir.
Stevens’ campus visit is sponsored by the School of Law’s Public Interest Law and Policy Speakers Series (PILPSS) and will be held at 1:30 p.m. in Graham Chapel, followed immediately by a reception in Anheuser Busch Hall Crowder Courtyard.