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John Paul Stevens was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1975 to 2010.
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John Paul Stevens was born April 20, 1920 in Chicago, Illinois. In 1970 he became a circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals and in 1975 he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Although he was expected to serve as a conservative counterbalance to the remnants of the liberal court of Earl Warren, he was an independently minded justice with a moderately liberal position.
"I don't believe in suppressing dissent. If you disagree you should say so."
Born on April 20, 1920, John Paul Stevens is regarded as an important force on the U.S. Supreme Court during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He grew up in Chicago as the youngest of four boys. Stevens came from an affluent family—his grandfather ran the Illinois Life Insurance Company and his father built the opulent Stevens Hotel. Through the hotel, John Paul Stevens met such luminaries as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh as a child.
In his mid-teens, Stevens saw his family's good fortune turn bad during the Great Depression. His father was convicted of embezzling money to try to keep the hotel afloat. Stevens later told The New York Times that his father was wrongly convicted. This experience with the justice system left a lasting impression.
In 1941, Stevens graduated from the University of Chicago. He soon enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served during World War II. Working as a cryptographer, Stevens earned a Bronze Star for his contributions to the war effort.
After the war, Stevens enrolled at the Northwestern University School of Law. He graduated at the top of his class two years later. After clerking for Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge Jr., Stevens returned to Chicago, where he worked as an antitrust lawyer.
In 1969, Stevens was asked to serve as general counsel on a special commission to investigate corruption allegations regarding members of the Illinois Supreme Court. He received accolades for his work and President Richard Nixon appointed him to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1970.
After five years on the bench, Stevens was selected for an even greater judicial post. President Gerald Ford nominated him for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 to fill a vacancy left by retiring William O. Douglas. While known for his conservative Republican politics, Stevens clearly charted his own course once he joined the court.
Considered a maverick by some, Stevens often supported the rights of individuals in his decisions. He dissented in the 1984 case of Hudson v. Palmer, which found that the Fourth Amendment did not cover a prisoner's cell and its contents. In his opinion, Stevens wrote that, "Measured by the conditions that prevail in a free society, neither the possessions nor the slight residuum of privacy that a prison inmate can retain in his cell, can have more than the most minimal value. From the standpoint of the prisoner, however, that trivial residuum may mark the difference between slavery and humanity."
Stevens has also supported abortion rights over the years. In an interview with The New York Times, he explained that the choice to have an abortion should be in the hands of the woman, not judges.
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