Flag Burning: Stevens didn't always express a liberal view in his opinions. In 1989, Stevens, who won a Bronze Star in World War II, wrote a strong dissent in a decision that upheld a protester's right to burn the American flag. Stevens said, "Sanctioning the public desecration of the flag will tarnish its value -- both for those who cherish the ideas for which it waves and for those who desire to don the robes of martyrdom by burning it."
National Security: In Rasul v. Bush, Stevens struck a blow to the Bush administration's take on executive power when he said that federal courts have the jurisdiction to hear challenges to foreign nationals being held in Guantanamo Bay. "In national security cases under the second Bush administration, Guantanamo-type cases, he was very strong in ruling against what he said were excessive uses of presidential power and in expanding judicial power in the national security area," said National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor.
In the few interviews the justice has granted over the years, he has steadfastly maintained that he is a judicial conservative, despite his liberal votes. He suggests that he hasn't changed, but the court became more conservative.
"I see myself as a conservative, to tell you the truth," he told ABC in 2007, just after the death of Gerald R. Ford, the president who nominated him.
In that interview, Stevens expressed his admiration for Ford, saying, "I have to tell you I was amazed to find how intelligent he was; right away, I realized I was talking to a very sound, good lawyer, which is kind of contrary to the image he portrayed to the press as sort of being a klutz or something. He was anything but. He was a charming, decent guy."
As for Ford, until his death, he maintained how proud he was of his decision to name Stevens to the court. In 2005, Ford sent a letter to the Fordham Law School which said, in part, that Stevens, "served his nation well, at all times carrying out his judicial duties with dignity, intellect and without partisan political concerns.
"Justice Stevens has made me, and our fellow citizens, proud of my three-decade-old decision to appoint him to the Supreme Court," Ford wrote. Stevens has the letter framed in his chambers.
Stevens was born in Chicago in April 1920 to a wealthy South Side family. His father owned the famed Stevens Hotel, which is now the Chicago Hilton. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1941 and then served as a Navy intelligence officer. He graduated from Northwestern University Law School in 1947.
Stevens was just a few years away from breaking the record for the longest serving member of the court held by William O. Douglas who stepped down after 36 years on the bench. But former Stevens clerks say their boss had no interest in breaking records.
Unlike most other justices, he wrote the first draft of his opinions himself, he continues to play tennis and commutes to his home in Florida. He told Joan Biskupic of USA Today that he was surprised at the frenzy of speculation over his retirement.
"That can't be news," he said in October, declining to reveal his plans. "I'm not exactly a kid."