John Paul Stevens, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 99, not only was one of the three longest-serving justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, but also one of only three justices to hail from the great state of Illinois.
Illinois can be proud of retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who died Tuesday at the age of 99. Justice Stevens spent much of his life in Illinois, save for the years when he was serving his country: first as a U.S. Navy veteran who received a Bronze Star for helping to break Japanese codes during World War II and later as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge and still later as a high court justice, nominated in 1975 by the late President Gerald Ford.
Even though Stevens became the leader of the court’s liberal wing, Ford years later paid him the highest compliment: “I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessarily, exclusively) on my nomination 30 years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Stevens was born in Illinois and had deep roots in the state. He grew up on Chicago’s South Side, got his undergraduate degrees from the University of Chicago and his law degree from Northwestern. His father, Ernest Stevens, for a time owned the Stevens Hotel on Michigan Avenue, then the largest hotel in the world. It later was known as the Conrad Hilton and today is the Hilton Chicago. Part of the reason young John Paul went into law, he later explained, was because his father had been accused of embezzlement after the hotel collapsed financially. His father’s name eventually was cleared, but the future jurist said the episode taught him the importance of justice.
Stevens’ Chicago childhood allowed him to meet such luminaries as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, and to attend as a 12-year-old the famous World Series game at Wrigley Field where the great Babe Ruth allegedly “called” a home run against the Cubs. He was a lifelong Cubs fan.
Stevens was one of only three justices to have been appointed from Illinois, the others being David Davis, nominated by President Abraham Lincoln, and Arthur Goldberg, whose name was advanced by President John F. Kennedy.
Justice Stevens will be buried where he rightfully belongs, at Arlington National Cemetery along with 12 other justices, including William Howard Taft, Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall and William Rehnquist.