Potter Stewart

Potter Stewart

Infobox Judge
name = Potter Stewart

imagesize =
caption =
office = 92nd Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court
termstart = October 14 1958
termend = July 3 1981
nominator = Dwight D. Eisenhower
appointer =
predecessor = Harold Hitz Burton
successor = Sandra Day O'Connor
office2 =
termstart2 =
termend2 =
nominator2 =
appointer2 =
predecessor2 =
successor2 =
birthdate = birth date|1915|1|23
birthplace = Jackson, Michigan
deathdate = death date and age|1985|12|7|1915|1|23
deathplace = Hanover, New Hampshire
spouse =
religion = Episcopalian

Potter Stewart (January 23 1915 – December 7 1985) was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.


Stewart was born in Jackson, Michigan, approximately 30 miles south of Lansing, Michigan, while his family was on vacation. His father, James G. Stewart, a prominent Republican from Cincinnati, Ohio, served as Mayor of Cincinnati for seven years and was later a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Stewart attended the Hotchkiss School, graduating in 1933. Then, he went on to Yale University, where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon and Skull and Bones graduating class of 1937. He was awarded Phi Beta Kappa and served as chairman of the student newspaper, The Yale Daily News. He graduated from Yale Law School in 1941, where he was an editor of the "Yale Law Journal" and a member of Phi Delta Phi. Other members of that era included Gerald R. Ford, Peter H. Dominick, Walter Lord, William Scranton, R. Sargent Shriver, Cyrus R. Vance, and Byron R. White. The last would later become his colleague on the Supreme Court.

Early career

He served in World War II as a member of the US Navy Reserve aboard oil tankers.

In 1943, he married Mary Ann Bertles in a ceremony at Bruton Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. His brother, Zeph Stewart (also an initiate of Delta Kappa Epsilon and Skull and Bones), was the best man. They eventually had a daughter, Harriet (Virkstis), and two sons, Potter, Jr. and David.

He was employed in private practice at the law firm of Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP in Cincinnati and at the age of 39, in 1954, he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

upreme Court service

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Stewart to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Harold Hitz Burton, who was retiring. Stewart came to a Supreme Court controlled by two warring ideological camps and sat firmly in its center. [Eisler, Kim Isaac (1993). A Justice for All: William J. Brennan, Jr., and the decisions that transformed America. Page 159. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671767879] [http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1960/1960_41/ideology/#opinions] A case early in his Supreme Court career showing his role as the swing vote during that time is "Irvin v. Dowd".

Stewart was temperamentally inclined to moderate positions, but was often in a dissenting posture during his time on the Warren Court. Stewart believed that the majority on the Warren Court had adopted readings of the First Amendment Establishment Clause ("Abington Township v. Schempp" (1963)), the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination ("Miranda v. Arizona" (1966)), and Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of Equal Protection with regard to voting rights ("Reynolds v. Sims" (1964)) which went beyond the intention of the framers. In the Abington case, Stewart refused to strike down the practice of prayer in public schools; he was the only justice who took this position [Eisler, 182] . Stewart dissented in "Griswold v. Connecticut" (1965) on the ground that, while the Connecticut statute barring the use of contraceptives seemed to him an "uncommonly silly law," he could not find a general "Right of Privacy" in the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause.

Prior to the appointment of Warren Burger as Chief Justice, many speculated that President Richard Nixon would elevate Stewart to the post, some going so far as to call him the front-runner. Stewart, though flattered by the suggestion, did not want again to appear before--and expose his family to--the Senate confirmation process. Nor did he relish the prospect of taking on the administrative responsibilities delegated to the Chief Justice. Accordingly, he met privately with the president to ask that his name be removed from consideration. [cite book |last= Woodward |first= Bob |coauthors= Scott Armstrong |title= The Brethren |publisher= Simon & Schuster |year= 1979 |month= September |isbn= 0-671-24110-9]

On the Burger Court, Stewart was seen as a centrist justice and was often influential, joining the decision in "Furman v. Georgia" (1972) which invalidated all death penalty laws then in force, and then joining in the Court's decision four years later, "Gregg v. Georgia", which upheld the revised capital punishment legislation adopted in a majority of the states. Despite his earlier dissent in "Griswold", Stewart changed his views on the "Right of Privacy" and was a key mover behind the Court's decision in "Roe v. Wade" (1973), which recognized the right to abortion under the "Right of Privacy." [Eisler, 232] Stewart opposed the Vietnam War and on a number of occasions urged the Supreme Court to grant certiorari on cases challenging the constitutionality of the war.

He was the lone dissenter in the landmark juvenile law case "In re Gault" (1967). That case extended to minors the right to be informed of rights and the right to an attorney, which had been granted to adults in "Gideon v. Wainwright" (1963) and "Miranda v. Arizona" (1966), respectively.

To the lay public, Stewart may be best known for a quotation, or a fragment thereof, from his opinion in the obscenity case of "Jacobellis v. Ohio" (1964). Stewart wrote in his short concurrence that "hard-core pornography" was hard to define, but that "I know it when I see it." Usually dropped from the quote is the remainder of that sentence, "and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." He later recanted this view in "Miller v. California", in which he accepted that his prior view was simply untenable.

[Eisler, Kim Isaac (1993). A Justice for All: William J. Brennan, Jr., and the decisions that transformed America. Page 159. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671767879]

Stewart remained on the Court until his retirement in July 1981 at the age of 66. He was succeeded by Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

After his retirement, he appeared in a series of public television specials about the United States Constitution with Fred W. Friendly.

He died in 1985 after suffering a stroke near his vacation home in New Hampshire, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. [http://www.indianhill.org/History/Ppl011.htm]

Stewart's personal and official papers are archived at the manuscript library of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. However, all files concerning Stewart's service are closed to researchers until all the justices with whom Stewart served have left the court. Thus, the files are expected to be made public following the departure from the court of Justice John Paul Stevens, who is the last sitting justice who served with Stewart. Stevens considers Stewart his judicial hero. [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/23/magazine/23stevens-t.html Justice John Paul Stevens - Supreme Court - Law - Washington - New York Times ] ]


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  • potter — potter1 /pot euhr/, n. a person who makes pottery. [bef. 1100; ME; late OE pottere. See POT1, ER1] potter2 potterer, n. potteringly, adv. /pot euhr/, v.i., n. Chiefly Brit. putter1. [1520 30; freq. of obs., dial. pote to push, poke, ME poten, OE… …   Universalium

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  • Potter — (as used in expressions) Aiken, Conrad (Potter) Huntington, Collis P(otter) Potter, (Helen) Beatrix Potter, Dennis (Christopher George) Stewart, Potter Martha Beatrice Potter …   Enciclopedia Universal

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