Air Force Memorial Will Be Closed to Spectators on Independence Day

Public access to the Southern Expansion portion of ANC, which includes access to the Air Force Memorial, will be closed on July 4.

Published on: Thursday, June 30, 2022

John Paul Stevens

Section 5, Grave 7015-4Gravestone of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens

John Paul Stevens (1920-2019), who passed away at the age of 99 on July 16, 2019, was the longest-lived Supreme Court justice. He was also the third longest-serving justice, with 34 and a half years on the nation's highest court (December 1975 to June 2010). 

Stevens was born in 1920 to a wealthy Chicago family, whose businesses included what was, at the time, the world's largest hotel. In 1933, however, Stevens' father, grandfather and uncle were indicted for embezzlement; although his father's conviction was eventually overturned, the family lost much of their fortune, including the Stevens Hotel, during the Depression. 

After graduating from the University of Chicago, Stevens joined the U.S. Navy on December 6, 1941 — the day before Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Commissioned as a signals intelligence officer, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor through the end of World War II. He received a Bronze Star for his work on breaking Japanese codes. 

The GI Bill enabled Stevens to attend Northwestern University School of Law, from which he graduated first in the class of 1947. He briefly clerked for Supreme Court Justice Wiley Blount Rutledge, and then went into private practice in Chicago, specializing in antitrust law. He co-founded the firm of Rothschild, Stevens, Barry & Myers, where he practiced until 1970, when President Richard M. Nixon appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. In 1975, President Gerald Ford nominated Stevens to the Supreme Court, to replace the retiring Justice William O. Douglas. The Senate confirmed him unanimously. 

Appointed by a Republican president, Stevens joined the court as a moderate conservative. By the time of his retirement in 2010, however, he was considered one of the more liberal justices. In part, this reflected the Court's overall more conservative leanings after the appointments of the Reagan and Bush administrations. But Stevens also attributed his gradual changes in opinion, notably on cases involving the death penalty and the rights of disenfranchised groups, to "learning on the job." In general, Stevens was not ideological, preferring to be guided by the facts of a case rather than by doctrine. He was also known for his unfailing courtesy toward others — and for his stylish bow ties. 

In his retirement, Stevens wrote prolifically, authoring frequent editorials and three books: "Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir" (2011), "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution" (2014) and "The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years" (2019). In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.