On Tuesday, John Paul Stevens, the retired Supreme Court Justice who was nominated by Republican Gerald Ford but ultimately became a part of the high court’s liberal wing, died at the age of 99 as the result of complications of a stroke he suffered on Monday.
For 35 years, Stevens’ trademark bow tie and gentle mien belied a competitive edge that turned up in his opinions and dissents, most often defending the rights of individuals against the government.
Stevens’ brand of conservatism – a term he insisted still applied until his retirement in 2010 – all but disappeared during his long and distinguished career. He was a proud veteran of World War II and a code-breaker who went on to become a corruption-buster in his native Chicago. President Gerald Ford not only nominated him in 1975 but proudly defended him 30 years later in a letter to USA TODAY.
“I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination thirty years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Ford wrote a year before his death.
In lengthy interviews with The New Yorker and The New York Times near the end of his career, Stevens insisted that he had not changed his stripes but had simply withstood the court’s transformation from liberal to conservative. During that time, he came to align more with the court’s liberals than its new brand of conservatives, eventually becoming the senior justice on that side with the power to assign opinions and dissents.
Stevens was the second-oldest and third-longest-serving justice in history. Steven was succeeded by Elena Kagan following his retirement. Over the course of his life, Stevens managed to attend three Chicago Cubs World Series games, first in 1929 and then again in 1932. Stevens was at the game when Babe Ruth is said to have called his shot at Wrigley Field. His most recent game was Game 4 of the 2016 World Series. The Cubs didn’t win that game, but ultimately won the series—their first since 1908.