Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Who Led Liberal Wing, Dies at 99

Source: By Linda Greenhouse, New York Times • Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2019

John Paul Stevens, whose 35 years on the United States Supreme Court transformed him, improbably, from a Republican antitrust lawyer into the outspoken leader of the court’s liberal wing, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 99.

The cause was complications of a stroke he suffered the day before, the Supreme Court announced in a statement.

When he retired in 2010 at the age of 90, Justice Stevens was the second-oldest and second-longest-serving justice ever to sit on the court. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was about eight months older when he retired in 1932, and William O. Douglas had served 36 years (1939-75).

Justice Stevens spent much of his service on the court in the shadow of more readily definable colleagues when he emerged as a central figure during a crucial period of the court’s history: the last phase of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist’s tenure and the early years under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

It was a time when the court took an active role in balancing individual liberty and national security and in policing the constitutional separation of powers, asserting a muscular brand of judicial authority that was welcomed by neither the White House nor Congress.

[Justice Stevens was praised after his death for his legal prowess and humble approach.]

Societal debates over the rights of gay men and lesbians, the role of race, private property rights, environmental regulation and the separation of church and state also made their way onto the Supreme Court’s docket, and Justice Stevens, a low-key Republican from Chicago, was as surprised as anyone to find himself not only taking the liberal side but also becoming its ardent champion.

It was Justice Stevens who wrote the court’s majority opinion in Rasul v. Bush, in 2004, which brought within the jurisdiction of the federal courts the hundreds of prisoners who had been captured as enemy combatants during the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and held at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

It was Justice Stevens who wrote the majority opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in 2006, which repudiated the Bush administration’s plan to put some of those detainees on trial by military commissions. “The Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction,” he declared.

On the domestic side, in 2002, it was Justice Stevens who wrote the opinion in Atkins v. Virginia, declaring that the Constitution does not permit executing the mentally disabled. Such defendants “face a special risk of wrongful execution,” he said, because of their limited ability to understand their actions and participate in their own defense.

John Paul Stevens, right, and Chief Justice Warren E. Burger on the steps of the Supreme Court in 1975 before Justice Stevens was sworn in. He was nominated by President Gerald Ford after Justice William O. Douglas retired.
Associated Press

Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in that case provided an example of how deeply divided the court was during those years on both methodology and outcomes. He complained that the 6-to-3 majority had simply enshrined its own views as constitutional law. “The arrogance of this assumption of power takes one’s breath away,” Justice Scalia wrote.

Two years before that, Justice Stevens had his own turn at a bitter dissent, in Bush v. Gore, the case that effectively decided the 2000 presidential election by stopping the Florida recount. Justice Stevens, one of four dissenters, said the court’s action “can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land.”

He said that although the actual winner of the presidential election might remain unknown, “the identity of the loser is perfectly clear”: It was “the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

A Slightly Quirky Loner

As the senior associate justice, with the power to assign majority opinions whenever he was in the majority and the chief justice was in dissent, Justice Stevens was the field marshal for a series of decisions that achieved liberal victories late in Chief Justice Rehnquist’s tenure. He assigned opinions to others in favor of gay rights and affirmative action and kept for himself decisions that upheld the authority of the federal government in the face of what had appeared to be the unstoppable states’-rights tilt of the Rehnquist court’s federalism revolution.

[5 Ways John Paul Stevens Made a Mark on the Supreme Court]

Until this final period, Justice Stevens had been known to the public, if at all, primarily for the jaunty bow ties he usually wore. His reputation was that of a very smart, nonideological, slightly quirky loner who, if a case was decided by a vote of 8 to 1, was as likely as not to be the solitary dissenter, caring neither to lead nor to follow.

He became the senior associate justice in his 19th year on the court, on the retirement of Justice Harry A. Blackmun in 1994. The role, which he appeared to enjoy, heightened his visibility and showed the world what his colleagues already knew: that he was actually a strategic thinker and canny tactician whose genial personality and impressive analytic power could forge a path that might have appeared blocked by the sheer arithmetic of a majority that was well to his right.

His frequent dissenting opinions, he said, arose from a conviction that both the public and the law were best served when differing views were expressed and explained, rather than suppressed for the sake of surface collegiality.

The court’s ideological spectrum was quite different when John Paul Stevens arrived from the federal appeals court in Chicago in December 1975, named by President Gerald R. Ford to replace Justice Douglas, who had retired a month earlier. The liberal titans William J. Brennan Jr. and Thurgood Marshall were still sitting. So was Lewis F. Powell Jr., an appointee of President Richard M. Nixon, who voted with the conservatives on criminal law issues but stoutly defended abortion rights.

Another colleague was Potter Stewart, the last of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s four Supreme Court appointees and, like Justice Stevens, a moderate Republican from the Midwest. Only five years apart in age despite Justice Stewart’s substantial seniority, the two men bonded. In a speech in 2004, Justice Stevens said Justice Stewart, who retired in 1981 and died four years later, “probably had the keenest intellect of any judge with whom I have served.”

 The court’s membership turned over completely and moved indisputably to the right during Justice Stevens’s long tenure on the bench. The extent to which it bridged two eras of Supreme Court history was underscored on Oct. 3, 2005, when he administered the oath of office to Chief Justice Roberts, a man 35 years his junior whom he first met 25 years earlier, when Justice Stevens was the court’s most junior member and John Roberts was a law clerk.

But the emergence of John Paul Stevens as the court’s most liberal justice was not simply a result of standing still amid a shifting landscape. His own views changed over time, moving to the left, particularly on the death penalty and on questions of racially conscious government policies.

He was skeptical of such policies at first, voting with the conservatives in the 1978 Bakke case to invalidate an admissions program at a University of California medical school that had set aside 16 places for minority applicants out of an entering class of 100. The court ordered the medical school to admit Allan Bakke, the white applicant who had brought the case.

Two years later, when the Supreme Court upheld a set-aside program that reserved 10 percent of federal public works money for minority contractors, Justice Stevens was one of three dissenters, along with Justices Stewart and Rehnquist. In his dissenting opinion in that case, Fullilove v. Klutznick, he warned that the “slapdash statute,” as he described it, could become “a permanent source of justification for grants of special privileges.”

In 1989, he voted with the 6-to-3 majority that invalidated a 30 percent minority contracting set-aside program in the city of Richmond, Va. Justices Marshall, Brennan and Blackmun dissented, with Justice Blackmun commenting, “I never thought that I would live to see the day” when the former “cradle of the Old Confederacy” would adopt a plan to help its African-American residents overcome a legacy of discrimination, only to see the effort struck down by “this court, the supposed bastion of equality.”

Nonetheless, Justice Stevens’s nuanced separate opinion in that case, Richmond v. J.A. Croson Company, demonstrated that he had begun to distance himself from the court’s increasingly conservative center of gravity. He agreed that the Richmond ordinance had painted with too broad a brush. But he did not agree with the majority’s premise that “a racial classification is never permissible except as a remedy for a past wrong”; sometimes such a classification is permissible, he said, if it takes account of race as a policy tool for building a better future.

He had said as much in a dissenting opinion in 1986 in a case challenging a collective bargaining agreement that shielded African-American teachers against layoffs in a Michigan public school district. The agreement was meant to preserve a hard-won racial balance in an economically troubled district, where the recently hired minority teachers would have been most vulnerable to seniority-based layoffs.

The 5-to-4 majority in that case, Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, concluded that the policy violated the white teachers’ 14th Amendment right to equal protection. Justice Powell explained that there was no proof of past discrimination for which the policy could be justified as an appropriate remedy.

In dissent, Justice Stevens said the majority’s mistake was to look backward rather than forward. Rather than ask whether the policy could be justified “as a remedy for sins that were committed in the past,” he said, “I believe that we should first ask whether the board’s action advances the public interest in educating children for the future.”

In a speech in 2004, Justice Stevens reflected on the “especially close” relationship he had enjoyed with Justice Powell, despite their differences in the Wygant case. He recalled that as the case was about to be argued, it came up in casual conversation between them.

“We both remarked on the fact that our next affirmative action argument was in an ‘easy case,’” Justice Stevens said. “It was only later that we both learned that we thought it easy for opposite reasons.”

His views on the death penalty similarly evolved. He arrived at the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision, which invalidated every death penalty statute in the country. The urgent question was whether a new generation of statutes that most states had enacted in response to the Furman ruling would now meet the court’s approval.

In 1976, in Gregg v. Georgia, the newly appointed Justice Stevens voted with the 7-to-2 majority to endorse the new approach, which required special procedures to “channel” the jury’s discretion and to allow the resumption of capital punishment.

With the passing years, however, Justice Stevens began to express deep concerns about how the death penalty was being administered. Recent evidence that “a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed erroneously” was “profoundly significant,” he told the American Bar Association in 2005, “because it indicates that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal justice.”

Finally, in 2008, he renounced capital punishment expressly, declaring that the time had come to reconsider “the justification for the death penalty itself.” Too often, he said, court decisions and actions taken by states to justify the death penalty were “the product of habit and inattention rather than an acceptable deliberative process.”

The case was Baze v. Rees, a constitutional challenge to Kentucky’s method of execution by lethal injection. A majority rejected the challenge, and Justice Stevens concurred in that result, writing that he felt bound to “respect precedents that remain a part of our law.” But he had made himself clear: in the court’s hands the death penalty had become, for him, a promise of fairness unfulfilled.

Evolving Views

One plausible explanation for Justice Stevens’s growing affinity for the liberal side was his response to the polarizing discourse about the Supreme Court that emanated from the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s. After Attorney General Edwin Meese III criticized a long series of Supreme Court precedents that had interpreted the Bill of Rights as binding not only on the federal government but on the states as well — a foundational premise of 20th-century constitutional law — Justice Stevens took him on directly. The attorney general, he said in a speech to the Federal Bar Association in Chicago in 1985, “overlooks the profound importance of the Civil War and the postwar amendments on the structure of our government.”

Justice Stevens’s own explanation for why his views had changed was simply that he had learned on the job. “I know that I, like most of my colleagues, have continued to participate in a learning process while serving on the bench,” he said in 2005 at a symposium held at Fordham University Law School to mark his 30th anniversary on the court and 35th year as a judge.

 “Learning on the job is essential to the process of judging,” he continued. “At the very least, I know that learning on the bench has been one of the most important and rewarding aspects of my own experience over the last 35 years.”

Yet in another sense he did not change very much, remaining what he had been at the start of his judicial career: a judge who looked at the facts on the ground rather than theories in law review articles, one who tended to regard doctrinal debates as a distraction from a judge’s real work, which in his opinion was the application of judgment to the case at hand.

His distinctive approach to the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection was perhaps the best example of his disdain for doctrinal formalism.

By the mid-1970s, the court had developed an elaborate grid for evaluating claims of unequal treatment at the hands of the government. Policies that distinguished among people based on their race were subject to “strict” judicial scrutiny and were almost never upheld. Policies that simply concerned economic interests were subject to minimal scrutiny and were upheld as long as they had a “rational basis.” Policies that treated men and women differently fell somewhere in between, subject to “heightened” judicial scrutiny and required to serve an “important governmental interest.”

Justice Stevens rejected all this. “There is only one Equal Protection Clause,” he declared in 1976, concurring in Craig v. Boren, an early sex discrimination case. “It requires every state to govern impartially.” A straightforward application of that principle was all a court needed, in his view, to decide an equal protection case.

One of Justice Stevens’s former clerks, Andrew M. Siegel, a law professor at the University of South Carolina, summed up the justice’s jurisprudence in a paper delivered at the 2005 Fordham symposium. “Perhaps the defining vision of Justice Stevens’s jurisprudence, indeed of his entire life project,” Professor Siegel wrote, “has been an unshakable faith in the capacity of men and women of the law to resolve difficult and contentious issues through the application of reason tempered by experience and humility.”

Professor William D. Popkin of the Indiana University School of Law wrote in a 1989 article in The Duke Law Journal that “a special brand of judicial restraint and creativity” marked Justice Stevens’s approach to the law. Justice Stevens was guided by three principles, Professor Popkin wrote: first, “deference to other decision makers,” based on the view that “the court should not decide cases that other institutions can decide at least as well or better”; second, attention to the facts of a case and avoidance of broad generalizations, based on the view that “the court should decide no more than the facts of the case require”; and third, the belief that the court’s highest substantive goal was to “protect individual dignity,” as reflected in his approach to equal protection.

Justice Stevens gave concrete application to his view of a limited role for the courts in one of his most important majority opinions, the 1984 case Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. The court held that when a federal statute is ambiguous, judges should generally defer to the interpretation of the agency charged with administering that statute rather than impose their own views of what Congress must have or should have meant.

“Federal judges — who have no constituency — have a duty to respect legitimate policy choices made by those who do,” Justice Stevens wrote. Although the case remained obscure to the general public, it was a landmark of administrative law, and the term “Chevron deference” became commonplace in judicial decisions reviewing a seemingly endless array of federal regulations. For the rest of his career, Justice Stevens looked back on the Chevron case with fondness and pride.

But while believing that judicial deference was often appropriate, he also believed that the federal courts must be available when other institutions of government failed to do their jobs. “I firmly believe that the Framers of the Constitution expected and intended the vast open spaces in our charter of government to be filled not only by legislative enactment but also by the common-law process of step-by-step adjudication,” he said in a 1991 speech at the University of Chicago.

Rooted in Chicago

That university was his alma mater, and his family had deep roots in Chicago. John Paul Stevens was born there on April 20, 1920, and grew up in a Georgian-style house in the Hyde Park neighborhood. He was the fourth son and youngest child of Ernest James Stevens, a wealthy businessman with interests in real estate and insurance, and the former Elizabeth Street, an English teacher.

In 1909 his grandfather James W. Stevens, an ambitious and successful financier, had built what was then Chicago’s biggest hotel, the LaSalle. His appetite whetted, the older Stevens then formed the family-owned Stevens Hotel Company to build and operate the world’s biggest hotel, a blocklong, 28-story, 3,000-room behemoth on Michigan Avenue that opened in 1927 as the Stevens Hotel.

Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart were among the many celebrities the young John Paul Stevens met there. Those early encounters may have inspired him; he became an avid pilot himself, flying his single-engine Cessna 172 around the Midwest for many years.

The Depression ended his grandfather’s dream in a disastrous way. Not only did the family lose the hotel, which was eventually bought by Conrad Hilton and stands today as the Hilton Chicago, but John’s grandfather, father and uncle were indicted by a Cook County grand jury on charges of looting the family’s insurance business in a failed effort to keep the hotel afloat. Facing extreme stress, his grandfather had a severe stroke, while his uncle, Raymond Stevens, fell into a depression and committed suicide.

Only Justice Stevens’s father went to trial, and he was convicted in 1933 of embezzling $1.3 million. The conviction was overturned the next year by the Illinois Supreme Court, which decided that Ernest Stevens’s actions had not amounted to a crime; he had used bad judgment, the court said, but had acted in good faith in trying to save the hotel, without intending either to commit fraud or to enrich himself.

With his father making a modest living managing a hotel for someone else, John attended the University of Chicago, where he majored in English and edited the newspaper. He graduated in 1941 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and winner of the university’s highest honors for scholarship and student activities.

He was commissioned as an officer in the Navy on Dec. 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He spent most of his Navy service, which lasted until 1945, stationed at Pearl Harbor working on breaking Japanese codes, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star.

In 1942 he married Elizabeth Jane Sheeren, with whom he had a son and three daughters. The couple divorced in 1979, and Justice Stevens married Maryan Mulholland Simon, a dietitian, the next year. She died in 2015. His son, John Joseph, died of cancer in 1996, and his daughter Kathryn preceded him in death.

 He is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth Jane Sesemann and Susan Roberta Mullen, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

With two older brothers who were lawyers, John was encouraged after his discharge from the Navy to attend law school himself. He used the G.I. Bill to attend Northwestern University Law School, where he completed his degree in two years. He was editor in chief of the law review and graduated first in the class of 1947 with the highest grade-point average in the school’s history.

A Supreme Court clerkship was a natural sequel. He spent the court’s 1947-48 term as a law clerk to Justice Wiley B. Rutledge, a respected former law professor and dean who was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s last Supreme Court appointee.

Lawyer to Judge to Justice

Justice Rutledge, who died of a stroke at 55 in 1949, cutting short his service on the court after six years, influenced his young protégé profoundly. Justice Rutledge viewed himself as an old-fashioned “common law” judge who decided cases one at a time. He was a liberal and, while committed to a strong national government, was also an internationalist; in 1948 he dissented on behalf of a group of German-born United States residents challenging the government’s right to deport them.

Justice Rutledge had “great faith in wisdom born of experience and mistrusted untried statements of general principles,” Mr. Stevens wrote in an admiring essay in the mid-1950s, years before his own judicial career began. Decades later, in writing the court’s opinion that gave the Guantánamo detainees access to federal court, Justice Stevens took great pleasure in vindicating his old boss’s position in the 1948 case, Ahrens v. Clark. And in rejecting the Bush administration’s plan for military commissions, Justice Stevens cited another dissent by Justice Rutledge, from 1946, in which he argued on behalf of habeas corpus for a Japanese general, Tomoyuki Yamashita, who had been sentenced to death by a military commission.

After his Supreme Court clerkship, Mr. Stevens returned to Chicago to begin what would be a 22-year career in private practice. Although he had always been known simply as John Stevens, he began adding his middle name when signing legal pleadings to add something extra to his bland first and last names. The full name eventually became part of his professional identity.

He handled regulatory and antitrust cases at one of the city’s most prominent firms, Poppenhusen, Johnston, Thompson & Raymond, now known as Jenner & Block. After three years there, he and two other junior associates left to start their own firm, Rothschild, Stevens, Barry & Myers. He remained there until 1970, when Senator Charles H. Percy, an Illinois Republican who had been a University of Chicago classmate, proposed that the Nixon administration nominate him for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the federal appeals court based in Chicago.

He was a reluctant nominee, at first urging Senator Percy to ask him again in six years. “I told John,” Mr. Percy later recalled, “if you wait six years, I may not be senator and there may not be a Republican president. And in that time you could be on the Supreme Court.”

Mr. Stevens had become prominent in Chicago legal circles, if not among the public at large, for his role in a riveting political drama the previous year: an ethics scandal involving two members of the Illinois Supreme Court. Chief Justice Roy J. Solfisburg and Justice Ray I. Klingbiel were accused by a private citizen of having accepted valuable bank stock from a politically influential Chicago lawyer in exchange for ruling in his favor in a criminal case.

The court set up a special commission to investigate the charge, with Mr. Stevens as its counsel. He was selected not only because of his good reputation but also because, with a law practice that was based in federal court, he had no ties to the state court bench.

During an intense six-week period, working without compensation in the full glare of a news media spotlight, he organized and led the investigation and presented findings that validated the accusation and led to the resignation of the two justices.

Mr. Stevens won high praise for his efforts and said later that he learned invaluable lessons about how appellate courts work. The episode became the subject of a book, “Illinois Justice,” by Kenneth A. Manaster, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2001.

Senator Percy proved to be a better prophet than his reluctant nominee could have imagined. The retirement of Justice Douglas in November 1975 was a potential problem for President Ford, who was about to enter a challenging re-election campaign and did not want the Supreme Court to be a source of controversy. He asked his attorney general, Edward H. Levi, to find a nominee who would win easy approval. Mr. Levi, a former dean of the University of Chicago Law School and president of the university, knew Judge Stevens and recommended him highly.

The president acted quickly. In two weeks the nomination was official, and 19 days later, on Dec. 17, 1975, Justice Stevens was confirmed by a vote of 98 to 0. The only opposition during his three-day confirmation hearing came from several women’s groups, which objected to his dissent from a ruling by the appeals court that it was illegal for an airline to require flight attendants to remain single.

Even though he was the first Supreme Court nominee since the court established the constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, nearly three years earlier, he was not asked a single question about abortion during his confirmation hearing.

Thirty years later, on the occasion of Fordham Law School’s anniversary symposium, Ford sent a letter to the school’s dean, William Michael Treanor. “I am prepared,” the former president wrote, “to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination 30 years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Separating Church and State

Among the positions for which Justice Stevens was best known on the court was his insistence on strict separation of church and state. “Whenever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government, we increase the risk of religious strife and weaken the foundation of our democracy,” he wrote in dissent from a 2002 decision that upheld an Ohio program providing taxpayer-financed vouchers for religious school tuition.

In an abortion case in 1989, he was the only justice to take the position that a Missouri statute declaring that life begins at conception not only violated the court’s abortion precedents but also was impermissible as “an unequivocal endorsement of a religious tenet” that “serves no identifiable secular purpose.” Over the years, he was a strong defender of the court’s precedents defining the right to abortion.

 He was also strongly on the federal government’s side in the court’s running debate over the proper allocation of federal and state power. He wrote the court’s 2005 opinion upholding the power of Congress to prohibit the use of marijuana for medical purposes in California and other states that had chosen to permit it. Later that year, he told a bar meeting in Las Vegas that while he agreed with “the policy choice made by millions of California voters,” it was nonetheless “pellucidly clear” that the court was obliged to uphold congressional authority.

In that same speech, he reflected on his majority opinion in the 2004-5 term’s most controversial case, upholding a city’s power to use eminent domain to condemn a private home and use the property for economic development. He said that while his position in the case, Kelo v. City of New London, was correct as a matter of constitutional interpretation, it was “entirely divorced from my judgment concerning the wisdom” of the city’s land-use policy.

In 1997 he wrote the court’s opinion in Clinton v. Jones, rejecting President Bill Clinton’s request to delay proceedings in a sexual harassment suit brought by a former Arkansas state employee, Paula Corbin Jones. Ms. Jones “has a right to an orderly disposition of her claims,” Justice Stevens wrote.

His patriotism was of the old-fashioned, unabashed variety. In 1989, he dissented from the court’s decision that gave First Amendment protection to those who burn an American flag as a political protest. “Sanctioning the public desecration of the flag will tarnish its value,” he wrote in that case, Texas v. Johnson, “both for those who cherish the ideas for which it waves and for those who desire to don the robes of martyrdom by burning it.”

Reflecting years later on his vote in that case, Justice Stevens said that while he still believed he was right, he now saw a silver lining. Flag burning had all but disappeared, he observed to a Chicago audience in 2006.

“What once was a courageous act of defiant expression is now perfectly lawful,” he noted, “and therefore is not worth the effort.”

He wrote two particularly notable dissenting opinions toward the end of his career, both in 5-to-4 cases in which the conservative justices prevailed. One was District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), in which the court for the first time interpreted the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to own a gun.

The other was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which freed corporations from federal limits on campaign spending. The decision “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation,” Justice Stevens wrote. It was that decision in early 2010, in fact, that prompted his decision to retire. Reading his dissenting opinion from the bench, he stumbled uncharacteristically over his words. He had suffered a small stroke. His retirement that spring opened a second vacancy for President Barack Obama to fill. The president named Elena Kagan, then serving in the administration as solicitor general, to the seat.

Justice Stevens had various health problems over the years, including open-heart surgery to repair a valve in 1974, prostate cancer in 1992 and a blocked coronary artery that was cleared by inserting a stent in 1997. But his energy and athleticism in advanced age continued to amaze those who witnessed it.

He remained an avid tennis player and golfer, shooting a hole in one in his 80s. He was a bronze-level life master at bridge, which he and his wife played competitively. They lived much of the year in an apartment in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with the justice traveling to Washington for court sessions and communicating with his law clerks and colleagues by email the rest of the time.

In retirement he wrote frequently, particularly for The New York Review of Books, and in 2011 he published a memoir, “Five Chiefs.” In 2014 he published “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.” In that book he proposed constitutional amendments that would unambiguously define the federal government’s power to, among other things, regulate firearms, limit campaign contributions, ban capital punishment and prohibit election-district gerrymandering to give one party an advantage. This year, he published “The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years.”

In an interview last November, Justice Stevens said that he first thought of writing the book during a surprise 94th birthday party. By the time he finished writing, the book had grown to 531 pages. “It’s a long story,” Justice Stevens explained.

He also made forays into public debates. In 2018 he wrote an opinion piece, after a school shooting, calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. Later that year he declared in a speech that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh was unqualified for the Supreme Court because of his partisan language during a Senate hearing on his fitness for the court over an accusation he sexually assaulted a girl during high school.

Justice Stevens was known around the court for treating others with sensitivity and respect. One former law clerk, Christopher L. Eisgruber, described in a 1993 essay an incident at a party for new clerks: Before Justice Stevens arrived, an older male justice had instructed one of the few female clerks present to serve coffee. When Justice Stevens entered, he quickly grasped the situation, walked up to the young woman and said: “Thank you for taking your turn with the coffee. I think it’s my turn now.” He took over the job.