John Paul Stevens, whose 35 years on the U.S. 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, Fla. 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, 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).
Stevens had 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 Rehnquist’s tenure and the early years under Chief Justice John Roberts.
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 Stevens, a soft-spoken Republican and former antitrust lawyer from Chicago, was as surprised as anyone to find himself not only taking the liberal side but also becoming its ardent champion.