Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens passes away at 99

(Gray News) - Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has passed away.

He was 99.

Stevens died Tuesday evening in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., of complications following a stroke he suffered Monday, passing away peacefully with his daughters by his side, the Supreme Court said in a statement.

Stevens joined the court in 1975 and retired in 2010 as the third-longest serving justice in the Supreme Court’s history. He replaced William O. Douglas, who was the longest-serving justice.

Stevens was the oldest justice on the court at the time of his retirement and was the second-oldest judge to serve behind Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Both were 90 at the time of their retirement but Holmes was 10 months older when he stepped down.

He was fond of bow ties and upon his retirement, other members of the Supreme Court wore bow ties in his honor. Stevens was replaced on the court by Elena Kagan.

Despite being nominated by Republican president Gerald Ford, Stevens became a liberal member of the court, especially in his later years. He was confirmed by the Senate with a vote of 98-0.

Stevens was born April 20, 1920, in Chicago. Stevens’ family was quite wealthy and owned the Stevens Hotel, which is now the Hilton Chicago. Due to his family’s status as owners of what was then the world’s largest hotel, Stevens met many famous Depression-era people, including Charles Lindbergh, who gave him a dove as a gift.

The family was also robbed at gunpoint at their Chicago home by Al Capone.

A lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, Stevens was in attendance at the 1932 World Series in Wrigley Field for Babe Ruth’s famed “called shot” home run. The veracity of the story has been debated ever since, but Stevens voiced his support for its authenticity in a retirement interview with “60 Minutes.”

The family lost the hotel to bankruptcy during the Depression and Stevens' father was convicted of embezzling money in an attempt to keep the business afloat. His father's conviction was later overturned due to lack of evidence.

The incident helped to inform his view of the justice system and influence his approach on the bench.

Stevens studied English at the University of Chicago before serving in the Navy during World War II. He enlisted the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor and was awarded the Bronze Star for his work as a codebreaker, despite serving stateside and never seeing combat.

After the war, Stevens attended Northwestern law school and graduated at the top of his class with the highest marks in the school's history. He became a law clerk for Associate Justice Wiley Rutledge, making him the third Supreme Court justice to have previously served as a clerk for the Supreme Court.

Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Stevens operated a law firm that specialized in antitrust law and gained him fame after several high-profile cases, including one analyzing Major League's Baseball's antitrust exemption.

His profile was further increased when he was appointed special prosecutor by the Illinois Supreme Court to investigate allegations of corruption against two justices, and Stevens forced them out of office. The case drew the attention of President Richard Nixon, who appointed Stevens to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1970. He was appointed to the Supreme Court five years later.

While serving as an associate justice, Stevens' most famous ruling involved the presidential election of 2000. The Supreme Court was asked to stay the recount of ballots in Florida and did so with a 5-4 vote with Stevens' vote in the minority. The ruling effectively won George W. Bush the election over Democratic challenger Al Gore.

In his dissent, Stevens said the winner of the election might have well have never been fully known regardless but that the loser was "the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."

Though his rulings were largely on the liberal side of the court, Stevens was part of the majority decision in the 1972 case Gregg v. Georgia that reinstituted the death penalty. However, he later ruled that it should be prohibited in certain circumstances and later opposed the method of lethal injection put forth in Stanford v. Kentucky, saying Eight Belles - a race horse that had to be euthanized following an injury in the 2008 Kentucky Derby - received a more humane death than humans on Kentucky's death row because one of the drugs used by the state has been outlawed for use in animals.

He later stated he regretted his ruling to uphold the death penalty and that it was the only opinion he issued that he would like to change.

Stevens also supported the federal government's right to prosecute offenders of federal law despite their actions being legal under state law. The issue came up in Gonzalez v Raich in 2005 over the issue of medical marijuana, which has been legalized by state governments but was illegal under federal law.

But he ruled in favor of the states in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which examined the legality of photo IDs at the polls. Stevens joined the more conservative justices in agreeing the state could ask for photo ID to ensure voters were American citizens.

Stevens ruled against displaying the Ten Commandments in court rooms, helped overturn an Alabama law requiring a time for silent prayer in schools, upheld a principal censoring a student newspaper and opposed flag burning as protected speech.

Another famous dissent Stevens issued was to the 5-4 vote in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission where the court upheld monetary contributions as a protected form of free speech. The ruling allows corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns. In his 90-page dissent, Stevens wrote the ruling "threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions" and "democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold."

Stevens was married twice and was the father of four children - three daughters and one son who died of brain cancer. His son, John Joseph Stevens, was a Vietnam War veteran and Stevens recused himself on three cases discussing chemical agents used during the war that have been linked to cancer and birth defects.

In Stevens' absence, the Supreme Court tied 4-4 on whether veterans' lawsuits against the chemical agent manufacturers could proceed.

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