John Paul Stevens and Equally Impartial Government

41 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2010

See all articles by Diane Marie Amann

Diane Marie Amann

University of Georgia School of Law

Date Written: April 5, 2010


This article is the second publication arising out of the author's ongoing research respecting Justice John Paul Stevens. It is one of several published by former law clerks and other legal experts in the UC Davis Law Review symposium edition, Volume 43, No. 3, February 2010, "The Honorable John Paul Stevens."

The article posits that Justice Stevens's embrace of race-conscious measures to ensure continued diversity stands in tension with his early rejections of affirmative action programs. The contrast suggests a linear movement toward a progressive interpretation of the Constitution’s equality guarantee; however, examination of Stevens's writings in biographical context reveal a more complex story. As a law clerk Stevens had urged that Justices declare segregation itself unconstitutional in 1948, six years before the Court took that step. The state’s refusal to admit a qualified applicant to law school solely on account of her race represented an individualized wrong, one that bore resonance with the Depression-era experiences of Stevens's own family. Stevens would come to describe unequal treatment as a breach of the sovereign's duty to govern impartially. But the Justice did not view race-based means to remedy prior discrimination in the same light. As the article demonstrates, it was only after he shifted attention away from the injustices of the past and toward expectations of a just future that Stevens adjudged affirmative action as a permissible means toward an equally impartial government.

Keywords: John Paul Stevens, legal history, equal protection, equality, affirmative action, race, due process, impartiality, government, discrimination, education, Supreme Court, litigation, Thurgood Marshall, Wiley Rutledge

JEL Classification: J71, K1, K10, K30, K41, K40

Suggested Citation

Amann, Diane Marie, John Paul Stevens and Equally Impartial Government (April 5, 2010). UC Davis Law Review, Vol. 43, p. 885, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Diane Marie Amann (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States

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