On Wednesday, September 14, the Northwestern Pritzker Law community, Northwestern University officials, and family, close friends, and former clerks of the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens gathered to honor his life and legacy. His successor, Justice Elena Kagan, was visiting the Law School as the 2022 Howard J. Trienens Visiting Judicial Scholar and to participate in the Justice John Paul Stevens Courtyard Dedication and Honorary Chicago Avenue Street Naming Ceremony.
“Justice Stevens had a tremendous career, provided incredible contributions to our justice system, and had deep ties to this Law School and the city of Chicago,” Dean Osofsky said, speaking from the Law School courtyard which will now be known as the Justice John Paul Stevens Courtyard. “[He] will long be remembered for his many important contributions to the legal profession and Supreme Court jurisprudence, and he will continue to influence generations of lawyers.” In addition to renaming the Law School courtyard in his honor, Chicago Avenue in front of the Law School will be known as Justice John Paul Stevens Way.
Northwestern President Michael Schill highlighted the importance of Justice Stevens’ legacy. “He is one of our most distinguished alumni, who made so many important contributions to society and the legal profession,” he said. “Justice Steven’s legacy lives on, in part, through the work of Justice Kagan.”
After Stevens retired in 2010, President Barack Obama nominated Kagan to fill the vacancy. “The first thing that comes to everybody’s mind when they talk about Justice Stevens is independence,” Kagan said. “He followed his own course.” The second thing, she said, was brilliance. Kagan recalled being invited to speak at Stevens’ funeral in 2019. “I looked around the room at all his clerks and said ‘You know he really didn’t need you,’” she joked. “It got an enormous laugh because it was obviously true. He was so brilliant and self-reliant.” But his sincerity is what was most captivating, she said. “[He was a] fundamentally decent human being. There was a kindness and generosity [to him].”
Kagan noted that Stevens gave her a valuable piece of advice upon his retirement that she carries with her to this day. “He said ‘There is always an opportunity to learn something new.’ It’s a great way to approach any new job, but it’s also a great way to approach being a Justice,” she said. “Remember, this is a 90-year-old man talking to me, a man who had been on the Court for 35 years.”
Distinguished alumnus Carter Phillips (JD ’77) added: “This is a wonderful tribute to him. But more importantly, we’ll remember Justice Stevens as the extraordinary alum that he was and follow his example as [students] go forward in their legal careers.”
Hannah Mullen, granddaughter of Justice Stevens, addressed the crowd. “I love that Northwestern chose to honor my grandfather with a courtyard,” she said. “His legacy is perfectly suited to a place to gather together for vibrant discussion and debate. [He] believed justice and equality were best sought through humble, respectful, persistent inquiry. I hope this courtyard is the sight of many joyful quests for the right answer.”
Watch the full courtyard dedication ceremony here.