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Justice John Paul Stevens, Who ‘Left Us a Better Nation,’ Dies at 99

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens testifies in April 2014.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said, “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.”

Justice John Paul Stevens, whose decisions during almost 35 years on the U.S. Supreme Court triggered a revolution in criminal sentencing and curbed government overreach in the war on terror, died on Tuesday evening at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 99.

“Retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, John Paul Stevens, died this evening at Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, of complications following a stroke he suffered on July 15. He passed away peacefully with his daughters by his side. He was 99 years old,” the Supreme Court confirmed.

Stevens was nominated to the high court by Republican President Gerald Ford in 1975 and retired in 2010 after serving more than 34 years on the court.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. released a statement through the Supreme Court following the death announcement. “On behalf of the Court and retired Justices, I am saddened to report that our colleague Justice John Paul Stevens has passed away. A son of the Midwest heartland and a veteran of World War II, Justice Stevens devoted his long life to public service, including 35 years on the Supreme Court.

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. We extend our deepest condolences to his children Elizabeth and Susan, and to his extended family,” the statement read.

Despite being put on the bench by a Republican, Stevens became a hero to liberals voting to limit the use of the death penalty, uphold affirmative action, broaden the core holding of Roe v. Wade and argue for a strict separation of church and state.

But Stevens might be best known for his dissent in Bush v. Gore, the controversial Supreme Court decision that halted a recount of Florida ballots and cleared the way for George W. Bush to take the presidency.

“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,” Stevens wrote at the time. “It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as the impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

Stevens was active in legal and political discourse to the very end.

In May, he gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal, giving this assessment of our politics today: “I think there are things we should be concerned about, there’s no doubt about that,” he says, parrying requests for specifics.

Eventually, he allows, “The president is exercising powers that do not really belong to him. I mean, he has to comply with subpoenas and things like that.”

Upon his retirement from the Supreme Court in April 2010, then-President Barack Obama hailed Stevens as an “impartial guardian of the law.”

“Justice Stevens has courageously served his country from the moment he enlisted the day before Pearl Harbor to his long and distinguished tenure on the Supreme Court,” the president said. “During that tenure he has stood as an impartial guardian of the law. He’s worn the judicial robe with honor and humility. He has applied the Constitution and the laws of the land with fidelity and restraint.”

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