John Paul Stevens, Originalist

27 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2012 Last revised: 28 Sep 2015

See all articles by Diane Marie Amann

Diane Marie Amann

University of Georgia School of Law

Date Written: October 2, 2012


Commentators, including the author of a recent book on the Supreme Court, often attempt to give each Justice a methodological label, such as "practitioner of judicial restraint," "legal realist," "pragmatist," or "originalist." This Essay first demonstrates that none of the first three labels applies without fail to Justice John Paul Stevens; consequently, it explores the extent to which Justice Stevens's jurisprudence paid heed to the fourth method, "originalism." It looks in particular at Justice Stevens's opinions in recent cases involving firearms, national security, and capital punishment. Somewhat at odds with conventional wisdom, the Essay reveals Justice Stevens as a kind of originalist – as a Justice duty-bound to identify and enforce principles, such as liberty and fairness, that the Framers embedded in the Constitution. To do so, Justice Stevens has practiced a fifth methodology, one that synthesizes many sources and interpretive techniques in an effort to reach a decision that serves a contemporary understanding of justice.

Keywords: John Pau Stevens, Supreme Court, originalism, methodology, legal realism, judicial restraint, pragmatism, William O. Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, Hugo Black, Frank Murphy, Wiley B. Rutledge, Antonin Scalia, capital punishment, Second Amendment, national security

JEL Classification: K1, K19, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Amann, Diane Marie, John Paul Stevens, Originalist (October 2, 2012). Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 106, No. 2, p. 743, 2012, UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-14, 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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