Illinois Bar Journal

September 2019Volume 107Number 9Page 8

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President's Page

Remembering Justice John Paul Stevens

The late justice’s career began and bloomed in Illinois and Chicago.

David B. Sosin

The Illinois legal community lost a distinguished lawyer and jurist with the passing of Justice John Paul Stevens on July 16, 2019. I had the privilege of meeting Justice Stevens in 2009, when we accompanied 38 lawyers and their families to the U.S. Supreme Court for their swearing-in ceremony. While justices are very busy during term and are not always able to greet the many groups attending the Court, Justice Stevens graced us with his presence at a breakfast following the ceremony. Our ISBA president presented Justice Stevens with a maquette of the Lincoln bust that now graces the halls of our Illinois Supreme Court building in Springfield. Our entire group found Justice Stevens to be gracious and personable as he took the time to pose for many pictures and handshakes.

Justice Stevens was a Chicagoan first and foremost. He grew up in Hyde Park as the fourth son of businessman Ernest Stevens and Elizabeth Street, an English teacher. He attended the University of Chicago where he excelled, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation, Justice Stevens enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned on Dec. 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor. During his four years of service, Justice Stevens served at Pearl Harbor as a Japanese code breaker, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star.

Upon discharge from the military, Justice Stevens attended Northwestern University School of Law, where he completed his law degree in two years. At Northwestern, he served as editor in chief of the law review and graduated first in his 1947 class. After completing a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship, he returned to Chicago to practice at the predecessor firm to Jenner & Block. After three years, he cofounded the firm Rothschild, Stevens, Barry & Myers.

During a trip to Washington, D.C., where 38 ISBA members were being admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009, Justice John Paul Stevens accepted from then-ISBA President Jack Carey a maquette of the Abraham Lincoln bust the ISBA commissioned for the Lincoln bicentennial that year. The actual bust is on display in the Illinois Supreme Court building in Springfield.

In 1970, U.S. Sen. Charles Percy, a University of Chicago classmate, nominated Justice Stevens for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. When Justice William O. Douglas retired in 1975, Justice Stevens was nominated to the Supreme Court and was confirmed 98 to 0. (Imagine that happening today for any nominee.) Labeled a conservative, Justice Stevens served on the Court for 35 years, applying the law to the facts and confounding anyone tempted to typecast judges based on their political leanings or those of the presidents who nominated them.

Justice Stevens continued an active life as a tennis player, golfer, and bronze-level master bridge player until his death at age 99. Having excelled in every aspect of his life, he continued to be a humble, personable, approachable Chicagoan who will be missed by all who knew him or viewed his distinguished career from a distance. Our legal community will not be the same with the loss of our distinguished favorite son.

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