John Paul Stevens, whose 35 years on the US supreme court transformed him, improbably, from a Republican antitrust lawyer to the outspoken leader of the court’s liberal wing, died Tuesday at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 99.
The cause was complications from a stroke he suffered the day before, the supreme court announced in a statement. When he retired in 2010 at age 90, Mr Stevens was the second-oldest and the 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).
I met Justice Stevens when I was in law school at a cocktail event at which he was the guest of honor. I was one of the first students to arrive and found myself unexpectedly face-to-face with him after a professor introduced me. I felt so shy I blurted out a compliment on his tie. Turns out it had been a gift and was a particular favorite of his. So we chatted about his tie and bow ties vs. regular ties for about five minutes until some classmates arrived and began bombarding him with questions about his Supreme Court decisions.
Anyway. He was a really nice, unpretentious man (and obviously, a brilliant Supreme Court justice).