Last updated on: 11/10/2008 | Author:

John Paul Stevens, JD Biography

Associate Justice, US Supreme Court
Con to the question "Should the Death Penalty Be Legal?"

“Current decisions by state legislatures, by the Congress of the United States, and by this Court to retain the death penalty as a part of our law are the product of habit and inattention rather than an acceptable deliberative process that weighs the costs and risks of administering that penalty against its identifiable benefits, and rest in part on a faulty assumption about the retributive force of the death penalty… The recent rise in statutes providing for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole demonstrates that incapacitation is neither a necessary nor a sufficient justification for the death penalty. Moreover, a recent poll indicates that support for the death penalty drops significantly when life without the possibility of parole is presented as an alternative option. And the available sociological evidence suggests that juries are less likely to impose the death penalty when life without parole is available as a sentence… Our society has moved away from public and painful retribution towards ever more humane forms of punishment. State-sanctioned killing is therefore becoming more and more anachronistic…

Full recognition of the diminishing force of the principal rationales for retaining the death penalty should lead this Court and legislatures to reexamine the question… ‘Is it time to Kill the Death Penalty?’ …The time for a dispassionate, impartial comparison of the enormous costs that death penalty litigation imposes on society with the benefits that it produces has surely arrived.”

“Baze v. Rees,” Concurrent Opinion, Apr. 16, 2008

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Associate Justice, US Supreme Court (Appointed by President Gerald Ford; confirmed 99-0 by the Senate), 1975-present
  • Justice, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (nominated by President Richard Nixon), 1970-1975
  • Second Vice President, Chicago Bar Association, 1970
  • Professor of Antitrust Litigation at the University of Chicago and Northwestern law schools (off and on throughout his career)
  • Member, Attorney General’s National Committee to Study Antitrust Laws, 1953-1955
  • Associate Council to the Subcommittee on the Study of Monopoly Power of the Judiciary Committee, 1951-1952
  • Law Clerk to Justice Wiley Rutledge, US Supreme Court, 1947
  • Awarded a Bronze Star while serving as an intelligence officer in the Navy, 1945
  • US Navy, 1942-1945
  • Editor-in-Chief, Northwestern University Law Review
  • JD, Northwestern University, 1946
  • AB, University of Chicago
  • Died on July 16, 2019