WASHINGTON (AP) – John Paul Stevens, 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.
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.