On November 28, 1975, President Gerald Ford made his only Supreme Court nomination when he selected federal judge John Paul Stevens to the nation’s highest court.
Ford was one of 10 Presidents to only make one successful Supreme Court nomination. Four other Presidents, William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson and Jimmy Carter, made no nominations to the Supreme Court.
After becoming President in August 1974, Ford was faced with naming a replacement for a Justice with whom he had publicly feuded while Ford was the House minority leader: William O. Douglas.
In 1970, Ford called for impeachment hearings against Douglas, a long-time liberal on the bench, and he asked for a House subcommittee to investigate Douglas for alleged financial improprieties. The committee found no grounds for impeachment.
Nearly four years later, Douglas suffered a stroke in December 1974 and after attempting to return to the Court, he resigned about 11 months later, ending 36 years of service on the Court.
Stevens had been a prominent attorney in Illinois before President Richard Nixon named him to the Seventh Circuit Appeals Court in 1970. President Ford has asked Attorney General Edward Levi for a list of prospective candidates. Stevens, Third Circuit Judge Arlin Adams, Maine Attorney Vincent McKusick and former Solicitor General Robert Bork topped the list.
Stevens and Adams were the final two candidates, with Levi reportedly favoring Stevens, since they were both from Chicago. On November 28, Ford announced Stevens as his pick, replacing the liberal Douglas with Stevens, then a registered Republican.
Stevens took his seat on the Supreme Court after the Senate approved his nomination in 98-0 vote. In his 34 years and six months on the Court, he was the third-longest serving Justice in the Court’s history.
During his time on the Court, Stevens eventually became associated with the Court’s liberal wing. But he wrote a strong dissent in the Texas v. Johnson flag-burning case.
“The ideas of liberty and equality have been an irresistible force,” Stevens wrote. “If those ideas are worth fighting for—and our history demonstrates that they are—it cannot be true that the flag that uniquely symbolizes their power is not itself worthy of protection from unnecessary desecration.”
Stevens was also known as a death-penalty opponent, and he wrote a dissent in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision that led to voting counting in Florida that settled a presidential election.
“Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law,” Stevens said.
Stevens retired from the bench at the age of 90 in June 2010. But he has remained active as an author and speaker.
Recently, Stevens presided over a moot court at Harvard at the age of 96, and he saw a lifetime dream come true. Stevens grew up as a Chicago Cubs fan and attended three World Series games as a child in Chicago.