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John Paul Stevens’s first published judicial opinion was a Dissent. He joined the Seventh Circuit a few days after the court issued its opinion in Groppi v. Leslie, and dissented soon afterward when the court upheld that decision on rehearing. Wilbur Pell, who until Stevens joined was the only Republican among the Seventh Circuit’s seven active judges, wrote both Groppi opinions. Yet Stevens, brand new to the court, dissented from Pell’s opinion on rehearing.

There was no reason to think Father Groppi, who was arrested for leading a demonstration that interrupted the Wisconsin Assembly’s work, was innocent of legislative contempt, but Stevens believed the Fourteenth Amendment insisted on certain procedural protections before a person’s liberty could be denied, whether by a court or a legislature. “At the foundation of our civil liberty lies the principle which denies to government officials an exceptional position before the law and which subjects them to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen,” Stevens wrote, quoting Justice Brandeis. “And in the development of our liberty,” he continued, “insistence upon procedural regularity has been a large factor. Respect for law will not be advanced by resort, in its enforcement, to means which shock the common man’s sense of decency and fair play.” Stevens couldn’t persuade his colleagues, but the Supreme Court eventually granted cert in Father Groppi’s case and unanimously adopted Stevens’s Position.


Judges | Law | Legal Biography


The Making of a Justice: Reflections on My First 94 Years by John Paul Stevens, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019, pp. ix, 549, $35.00.