John Paul Stevens, the bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court's leading liberal, died Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after suffering a stroke Monday. He was 99. During nearly 35 years on the court, Stevens stood for the freedom and dignity of individuals, be they students or immigrants or prisoners, the AP reports. He acted to limit the death penalty, squelch official prayer in schools, establish gay rights, promote racial equality, and preserve legal abortion. He protected the rights of crime suspects and undocumented immigrants facing deportation. Stevens, who was appointed by Gerald Ford in 1975 and retired in 2010, served more than twice the average tenure for a justice, and was only the second to mark his 90th birthday on the high court.
Born in 1920, Stevens was a privileged child of a bygone era: He met Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh at the family hotel in Chicago and was at the ballpark when Babe Ruth hit his famous "called-shot" home run in the 1932 World Series. He joined the Navy the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service with a code-breaking team. After the war, Stevens graduated first in his class at Northwestern University's law school and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge. Stevens was considered a moderate conservative when Ford—whose nominee would need the approval of a Democratic-controlled Senate—chose him for the Supreme Court. At first considered a centrist, Stevens came to be seen as a lion of liberalism. But he rejected that characterization. "I don't think of myself as a liberal at all," Stevens told the New York Times in 2007. "I think as part of my general politics, I'm pretty darn conservative."
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