Potter Stewart Biography

(Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States)
Potter Stewart

Birthday: January 23, 1915 (Aquarius)

Born In: Jackson

The man behind several of the ground breaking reforms in the legal system of the United States, Potter Stewart is primarily remembered for his contributions to criminal justice reforms and the Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. His father was a prominent lawyer cum politician and it was only natural that his son too chose to follow in his footsteps. A bright student, he graduated from the Yale Law School where he edited the ‘Yale Law Journal’. He entered private law practice after a stint in the Navy during the World War II. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and was chosen by President Dwight Eisenhower to replace the retiring judge of the Supreme Court in 1959. He proved to be an astute and practical lawyer with a pragmatic bent of mind. A popular lawyer who had influenced several important rulings before the court, he was considered the frontrunner to become the Chief Justice under the Nixon government; however Stewart himself had no such ambitions. He was best known for his statement "I know it when I see it" in relation to his judgment of obscenity regarding a particular case. Equally famous is his quote on capital punishment: “These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual”.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Potter Stewart

Died At Age: 70


Spouse/Ex-: Mary Ann Bertles

father: James Garfield Stewart

siblings: Zeph Stewart

children: David, Harriet, Jr., Potter

Judges American Men

Died on: December 7, 1985

place of death: Hanover

U.S. State: Michigan

More Facts

education: Hotchkiss School (1933), Yale Law School, Yale University

awards: - Phi Beta Kappa Award

Childhood & Early Life
Potter Stewart was born to James Garfield Stewart and Harriet Loomis Potter. His father was a lawyer and a prominent Republican who had served as the mayor of Cincinnati.
He went to Hotchkiss School and graduated in 1933.
He attended Yale University where he became the chairman of the ‘Yale Daily News’.
He earned his degree in law from Yale Law School in 1941. There he was an editor of the ‘Yale Law Journal’ and was also a member of Phi Delta Phi.
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He joined a firm on Wall Street after graduation though he left to join the U.S. Naval Reserve during the World War II. He attained the rank of lieutenant junior grade and was awarded three battle stars for his services abroad oil tankers.
After his navy stint, he worked in private practice at a big law firm, Dinsmore & Shohl in Cincinnati.
He was elected to the Cincinnati City Council twice during the early 1950s.
In 1954, a vacancy occurred in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and he was appointed to this position.
When Justice of the Supreme Court, Harold Hitz Burton, was to retire, President Dwight Eisenhower nominated Stewart to the Supreme Court in 1959.
At the time of his joining the Supreme Court was divided into two parties with opposing ideologies: liberals and conservatives. He refused to be categorized into either of these and remained a firm moderate with pragmatic views.
The Irvin v. Dowd case was one of his early cases in the Supreme Court. It involved an escaped convicted murderer’s denial of appeal. Stewart played a ‘swing vote’ role in the case.
In the 1962 Engel v. Vitale case, which ruled that encouraging the recitation of an official school prayer was unconstitutional, Stewart was the only justice who dissented.
He dissented along with John Harlan and Byron White in the landmark case Miranda v. Arizona (1966) which significantly impacted law enforcement in the United States. He argued that the court's decision provided too much protection to defendants and undermined the ability of the police to enforce the law.
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He was the lone dissenter in the case, In re Gault (1967) which extended to juveniles, accused of crimes, the same legal rights afforded to adults in the Miranda v. Arizona (1966).
He wrote the majority decision in Katz v. United States (1967). He argued that the Fourth Amendment ‘protects people not places’ and extended the Fourth Amendment protections to electronic surveillance.
While hearing the Furman v. Georgia (1972), Stewart voiced his opinion that biasness and ambiguity could be seen while imposing capital punishment. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that there should be a degree of consistency in the application of death penalty.
In 1976, he extended the 1866 Civil Rights Act to Runyon v. McCrary ruling that conceded that schools should not discriminate against students on the basis of race.
The Whalen v. Row (1977) case involved New York Statutes requiring the reporting and storage of information concerning all Schedule II drug prescriptions. He concurred with the majority decision that the ruling did not violate a citizen’s constitutional right to privacy.
He retired from the Court in 1981. He appeared in a special television series on the United States Constitution after his retirement.
Major Works
As an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, he was primarily known for his moderate viewpoint. He played a vital role in several landmark rulings of the Court and made significant contributions to the criminal justice and civil rights cases
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Mary Ann Bertles in 1943. The couple had three children. He also had several grandchildren and was a doting grandfather.
He died after suffering a stroke in 1985.
He was cited as being the primary source for the non-fiction ‘The Brethren’ by Bob Woodward.

See the events in life of Potter Stewart in Chronological Order

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