Justice John Paul Stevens 1920–2019

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens died July 16 in a Fort Lauderdale FL hospital following a stroke. He was 99 years old.

In addition to being a brilliant jurist, Stevens was an accomplished bridge player, and a regular at club games and tournaments in both Florida and the Washington DC area. On Valentine’s Day, he attended a special 60th anniversary celebration of the Fort Lauderdale Club

Born in Chicago, Stevens served in the Navy in World War II. He enlisted on Dec. 6, 1941, one day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his service. He returned home and entered Northwestern University School, graduating  magna cum laude in 1947.

He was appointed to the Court of Appeals for the 7th District by President Nixon in 1970, and then to the Supreme Court by President Ford in 1975. When Justice Stevens retired in 2010 at the age of 90, he was the second-oldest and third-longest-serving justice ever to sit on the court.

At Justice Stevens’s passing, bridge expert Jeff Roman posted a remembrance on Bridgewinners.com:

Recollections from players all over the country recall a man of warmth, humor, approachability, and palpable intelligence. He loved our game, played for many, many years, and was a tough competitor.

Justice Stevens played bridge at our local Tuesday morning club with his wife Maryan, until her death in 2015. He was such a gentleman, and he always exuded intelligence, and warmth, and oh, those bow ties.

For years, I always addressed him as “Your Honor.” Then I was reading something and learned that the right form of address is “Mr. Justice.”

The next time he and Maryan were at the bridge game, I went to where they were sitting and said, “Mr. Justice, I just learned that I’ve been addressing you incorrectly and, well, I want you to know I certainly wasn’t being flippant.”

He said, “Why don’t you call me John?” I smiled and said, “Not if we had been best friends since third grade.” He said “Why not? It’s a social setting.”

I told him that when I looked at him, I saw 4% of the entire United States government! (Maryan held her head in her hands and said, “Oh my God.”). Justice Stevens asked “What? How do you … ?” I said, “Well, a ninth of a third?” He perked up in his chair and said, “Heyyyyy…” Maryan looked at me with a look that conveyed “I love him, too” but she said with a practiced weariness “Jeff, what are you doing? I can’t get his head through doors …”

U.S. player Randy Thompson – a retired attorney – claims the honor of having informed Justice Stevens that he was (at that time, anyway), the only justice in the history of the Supreme Court to use the word “gargoyle” in an opinion.

In a scathing dissent, “Justice Stevens said that he hoped that the majority opinion would some day be viewed as an ‘ancient gargoyle of the law,’” Randy says. “A one-word computer search of all Supreme Court opinions up to the date of the search turned up only that one instance of the use of gargoyle. He was amused to find out that piece of trivia.”

Bridge columnist and expert Frank Stewart described a memorable encounter with Stevens.

“In 1984, prior to the Summer Nationals in Washington, Justice Stevens played in a Congress-Parliament match that I helped cover for the Bulletin. The deals and play had been recorded, but the account of one deal I wanted to use was incomplete. I called the Supreme Court, got a law clerk on the phone and asked if Justice Stevens could call me. That same afternoon, my phone rang, and I had the remarkable experience of talking bridge with a member of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was gracious, engaging – and helpful. He remembered the deal at issue and answered my questions!

“Justice Stevens was an extraordinary jurist. He was also an excellent writer. I found his book ‘Five Amendments’ to be cogent and well executed. Rest well, Mr. Justice. You lived a good long life.”