Chicago native John Paul Stevens, one of the longest serving justices in Supreme Court history, was born on Chicago's South Side, but considered himself a die-hard Cubs fan.
The bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court's leading liberal, died Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after suffering a stroke Monday. He was 99.
Born in 1920, Stevens was a privileged child of a bygone era: He met Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh at the family hotel and was at the ballpark when Babe Ruth hit his famous "called-shot" home run in the 1932 World Series.
He joined the Navy the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service with a Japanese code-breaking team. The code breakers' work enabled the U.S. to shoot down a plane carrying the commander of the Japanese Navy, and that targeted wartime killing later contributed to his misgivings about the death penalty.
After World War II, Stevens graduated first in his class at Northwestern University's law school and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge. As a lawyer he became an antitrust expert, experience he brought to Supreme Court rulings such as one ending the NCAA's control over televised college football games.
"Justice John Paul Stevens was a brilliant mind who made an indelible mark on the Supreme Court and our country," Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Dean Kimberly A. Yuracko said in a statement. "All of us at Northwestern Law are extraordinary proud to have him as an alum. He was a treasured friend of the Law School and he will be dearly missed."
President Richard Nixon appointed Stevens, a lifelong Republican, to the federal appeals court in Chicago. Judge Stevens was considered a moderate conservative when Ford — whose nominee would need the approval of a Democratic-controlled Senate — chose him for the Supreme Court.
Stevens won unanimous confirmation after uneventful hearings nothing like today's partisan shows. Stevens' liberal bent once on the high court was "different than I envisioned," Ford acknowledged decades later, but he still supported and praised him as "a very good legal scholar."
During nearly 35 years on the court, Stevens stood for the freedom and dignity of individuals, be they students or immigrants or prisoners. He acted to limit the death penalty, squelch official prayer in schools, establish gay rights, promote racial equality and preserve legal abortion. He protected the rights of crime suspects and illegal immigrants facing deportation.
He influenced fellow justices to give foreign terrorism suspects held for years at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base the right to plead for their release in U.S. courts.
Stevens served more than twice the average tenure for a justice, and was only the second to mark his 90th birthday on the high court. From his appointment by President Gerald Ford in 1975 through his retirement in June 2010, he shaped decisions that touched countless aspects of American life.
"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 a statement.
He remained an active writer and speaker into his late 90s, surprising some when he came out against Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation following Kavanaugh's angry denial of sexual assault allegations. Stevens wrote an autobiography, "The Making of a Justice: My First 94 Years," that was released just after his 99th birthday in April 2019.
At first considered a centrist, Stevens came to be seen as a lion of liberalism. But he rejected that characterization.
"I don't think of myself as a liberal at all," Stevens told The New York Times in 2007. "I think as part of my general politics, I'm pretty darn conservative."
The way Stevens saw it, he held to the same ground, but the court had shifted steadily to the right over the decades, creating the illusion that he was moving leftward.
His legal reasoning was often described as unpredictable or idiosyncratic, especially in his early years on the court. He was a prolific writer of separate opinions laying out his own thinking, whether he agreed or disagreed with the majority's ruling. Yet Stevens didn't consider his methods novel. He tended toward a case-by-case approach, avoided sweeping judicial philosophies, and stayed mindful of precedent.
When he was 14, his father, owner of a grand but failing Chicago hotel, was wrongly convicted of embezzlement. Ernest Stevens was vindicated on appeal, but decades later his son would say the family's ordeal taught him that justice can misfire.
More often, however, Stevens credited his sensitivity to abuses of power by police and prosecutors to what he learned while representing criminal defendants in pro bono cases as a young Chicago lawyer.
He voiced only one regret about his Supreme Court career: that he had supported reinstating the death penalty in 1976. More than three decades later, Stevens publicly declared his opposition to capital punishment, saying that years of bad court decisions had overlooked racial bias, favored prosecutors and otherwise undermined his expectation that death sentences could be handed down fairly.
A great-grandfather, Stevens eased into an active retirement of writing and speaking, still fit for swimming and tennis in Fort Lauderdale, where he and his second wife, Maryan, kept a home away from Washington.
He is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth and Susan, who were with him when he died. Other survivors include nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Stevens' first wife, Elizabeth, second wife, Maryan, and two children died before him. Funeral arrangements are pending, the Supreme Court said in a statement announcing his death. But he is expected to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, next to Maryan.