John Paul Stevens was born on April 20, 1920, in Chicago, Illinois, as the youngest of Ernest and Elizabeth Stevens' four sons. His father made a fortune in the insurance and hotel business and owned the Stevens Hotel, which has since become the Chicago Hilton. The Stevens lived near the University of Chicago campus and sent their sons to the university's laboratory school for preparatory education. Stevens attended college at the University of Chicago, following his father's footsteps, and participated in a wide variety of campus activities and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1941. A year after graduation, Stevens married Elizabeth Sheeren, with whom he had a son and three daughters. Stevens and his first wife divorced in 1979 and he married Maryann Simon a year later.
Stevens enlisted in the Navy during World War II. In his position as part of a Navy code-breaking team, Stevens earned the Bronze Star. Following the war, he again followed his father's path and entered Northwestern University Law School to study law. Stevens distinguished himself at Northwestern by becoming editor-in-chief of the school's law review and graduating with the highest grades in the law school's history. After graduating, he served a term as law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge.
Stevens joined a prominent law firm in Chicago specializing in antitrust law and creating a reputation as a talented antitrust lawyer. He left the firm to start his own practice after three years and also began teaching law at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago law schools. His abilities in antitrust laws earned him positions with various special counsels to the House of Representatives and the U.S. Attorney General's office.
Stevens became known as a fair-minded and able counsel. Richard Nixon appointed him to the Unites States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 1970. On the appeals court, Stevens continued to establish his reputation as a notable legal thinker.
President Gerald Ford appointed Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975. As a justice, Stevens has avoided simple conservative or liberal labels. As the Court moved toward the right during the Reagan and Bush presidencies, however, Stevens appeared more and more liberal relative to the make-up of the Court. Although Stevens is difficult to predict, he will typically examine the facts of each case carefully and on its own merits. He also seeks to defer to the judgments of others who he feels are better suited to decide. He has demonstrated considerable judicial restraint and deference to the Congress. Today, Stevens is the most senior justice, both in age and years of service.