Justice Potter Stewart

Justice Potter Stewart joined the U.S. Supreme Court on October 14, 1958, replacing Justice Harold Hitz Burton. Stewart was born on January 23, 1915 in Michigan, but his family lived in Ohio. He graduated cum laude from Yale in 1937 with a degree in English. Stewart then briefly studied at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom before returning to Yale for law school. He graduated cum laude from law school in 1941.

Stewart briefly practiced at a Wall Street law firm and then entered the U.S. Navy Reserve during the Second World War. After the war, he returned to Ohio and served on the Cincinnati City Council during the early 1950s. In April 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower nominated Stewart to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He was confirmed soon afterward and would spend the next four years there.

On October 14, 1958, Eisenhower appointed Stewart to the U.S. Supreme Court during a recess of the Senate. He was the last of three recess appointments by Eisenhower to the Supreme Court and (as of 2023) the last Supreme Court Justice to take their seat in this manner. Eisenhower formally nominated Stewart on January 17, 1959. The Senate confirmed him on May 5 in a 70-17 vote.

The first half of Stewart’s tenure overlapped with the famously liberal Earl Warren Court. He was more moderate than many of his colleagues in that era and declined to join some of its notable decisions. For example, he dissented from the 1966 decision of Miranda v. Arizona, in which the Court interpreted the Fifth Amendment to require the warnings that are now routinely issued to criminal suspects. He also disagreed with the robust interpretation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause in Engel v. Vitale, which struck down school-sponsored prayer in public schools. However, Stewart helped expand Fourth Amendment protections against searches and seizures by law enforcement by writing for the Court in Katz v. U.S. in 1967.

As part of the Warren Burger Court in the 1970s, Stewart voted both for the moratorium on the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia and for its reinstatement in Gregg v. Georgia. He also joined the majority in Roe v. Wade, which at the time established a constitutional right to abortion.

Popular history remembers Stewart for a pithy line in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio. In a concurring opinion, he wrote that the First Amendment limits obscenity laws to hard core pornography. Declining to define that term, he said simply "I know it when I see it."

Stewart retired from the Court on July 3, 1981 and was replaced by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He died on December 7, 1985 in New Hampshire and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Selected Opinions by Justice Stewart:

New York v. Belton (1981)

Topic: Search & Seizure

When a policeman has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, they may search the passenger compartment of that automobile as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest. The police may also examine the contents of any containers found within the passenger compartment.

Harris v. McRae (1980)

Topic: Abortion & Reproductive Rights

A woman's freedom of choice does not carry with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices. Although the government may not place obstacles in the path of a woman's exercise of her freedom of choice, it need not remove those not of its own creation, and indigency falls within the latter category.

City of Mobile v. Bolden (1980)

Topic: Voting & Elections

Racially discriminatory motivation is a necessary ingredient of a Fifteenth Amendment violation. The Amendment does not entail the right to have African-American candidates elected but prohibits only purposefully discriminatory denial or abridgment by government of the freedom to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Rhode Island v. Innis (1980)

Topic: Miranda Rights

The Miranda safeguards come into play whenever a person in custody is subjected to either express questioning or its functional equivalent. The term “interrogation” under Miranda refers not only to express questioning but also to any words or actions on the part of the police that they should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.

Whirlpool Corp. v. Marshall (1980)

Topic: Labor & Employment

A regulation could permit private employees of a private employer to avoid workplace conditions that they believe pose grave dangers to their own safety, when the employees have no power under the regulation to order their employer to correct the hazardous condition or to clear the dangerous workplace of others.

Parklane Hosiery Co., Inc. v. Shore (1979)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A trial judge should not allow the use of offensive collateral estoppel if a plaintiff could easily have joined in the earlier action, or if the application of offensive estoppel would be unfair to the defendant. Unfairness might be found when the defendant had less incentive to defend the previous case, there are inconsistent judgments, or different procedural opportunities in the second action could cause a different result. (Offensive collateral estoppel is collateral estoppel asserted by a plaintiff.)

City of Philadelphia v. New Jersey (1978)

Topic: Powers of Congress

Regardless of its purpose, a state cannot discriminate against articles of commerce coming from outside the state unless there is some reason, apart from their origin, to treat them differently.

Owen Equipment and Erection Co. v. Kroger (1978)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A finding that federal and non-federal claims arise from a common nucleus of operative fact does not suffice to establish that a federal court has the power to hear non-federal as well as federal claims. Although the constitutional power to adjudicate the non-federal claim may exist, it does not necessarily follow that statutory authorization has been granted. The context in which a non-federal claim is asserted is crucial.

Dothard v. Rawlinson (1977)

Topic: Labor & Employment

To establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination, a plaintiff need only show that facially neutral standards select applicants for hire in a significantly discriminatory pattern. If the employer proves that the challenged requirements are job-related, the plaintiff may show that other selection devices without a similar discriminatory effect would also serve the employer's legitimate interest in efficient and trustworthy workmanship.

Hazelwood School District v. U.S. (1977)

Topic: Labor & Employment

Once a prima facie case has been established by statistical workforce disparities, the employer must have an opportunity to show that the claimed discriminatory pattern was a product of pre-Title VII hiring, rather than unlawful post-Title VII discrimination.

Teamsters v. U.S. (1977)

Topic: Labor & Employment

In cases alleging a pattern or practice of employment discrimination, the government must show that discrimination was the standard operating procedure of the defendant. Statistics may be used in proving discrimination.

Brewer v. Williams (1977)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The Sixth Amendment right to counsel means at least that a person is entitled to a lawyer's help at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated against them. To show a waiver of the right to the assistance of counsel, the state must prove an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege.

Gregg v. Georgia (1976)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

The punishment of death for the crime of murder does not, under all circumstances, violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (This decision ended the temporary moratorium on the death penalty imposed by Furman.)

Michigan v. Moseley (1975)

Topic: Miranda Rights

The admissibility of statements obtained after the person in custody has decided to remain silent depends under Miranda on whether their right to cut off questioning was scrupulously honored.

Faretta v. California (1975)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that a defendant in a criminal trial has an independent constitutional right of self-representation. They may defend themselves without counsel when they voluntarily and intelligently elect to do so.

Twentieth Century Music Corp. v. Aiken (1975)

Topic: Copyrights

The reception of a radio broadcast of a copyrighted musical composition is not copyright infringement when the copyright owner has licensed the broadcaster to perform the composition publicly for profit.

U.S. v. SCRAP (1973)

Topic: Role of Courts

Standing is not confined to those who show economic harm, since aesthetic and environmental wellbeing are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society.

Schneckloth v. Bustamonte (1973)

Topic: Search & Seizure

When the subject of a search is not in custody, and the state would justify a search on the basis of their consent, the state must demonstrate that the consent was voluntary. Voluntariness is determined from the totality of the surrounding circumstances. While knowledge of a right to refuse consent is a factor to be taken into account, the state need not prove that the person knew that they had a right to withhold consent.

Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth (1972)

Topic: Due Process

The Fourteenth Amendment does not require an opportunity for a hearing prior to the non-renewal of a non-tenured state teacher's contract unless they can show that the non-renewal deprived them of an interest in liberty, or that they had a property interest in continued employment, despite the lack of tenure or a formal contract.

Fuentes v. Shevin (1972)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures; Due Process

From the standpoint of due process, it is immaterial that a deprivation of property may be temporary and non-final.

Kirby v. Illinois (1972)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

A showup after arrest, but before the initiation of any adversary criminal proceeding, is not a criminal prosecution at which the accused as a matter of absolute right is entitled to counsel.

Vale v. Louisiana (1970)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Only in a few specifically established and well delineated situations may a warrantless search of a dwelling withstand constitutional scrutiny. These include when there was consent to the search, the officers were responding to an emergency, the officers were in hot pursuit of a fleeing felon, or the goods ultimately seized were in the process of destruction or were about to be removed from the jurisdiction.

Chimel v. California (1969)

Topic: Search & Seizure

An arresting officer may search the arrestee's person to discover and remove weapons and to seize evidence to prevent its concealment or destruction, and they may search the area within the immediate control of the person arrested, meaning the area from which the person might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.

Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

Federal law bars all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property.

Katz v. U.S. (1967)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The government's activities in electronically listening to and recording the defendant's words violated the privacy on which he justifiably relied while using a telephone booth and thus constituted a search and seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

U.S. v. Correll (1967)

Topic: Taxes

Traveling expenses incurred in the pursuit of business while away from home, which are deductible, include the cost of meals only if the trip requires sleep or rest.

McCray v. Illinois (1967)

Topic: Search & Seizure

A state court does not have a duty to require the disclosure of an informer's identity at a pretrial hearing held for the purpose of determining only the question of probable cause when there was ample evidence in an open and adversary proceeding that the informer was known to the officers to be reliable and that they made the arrest in good faith upon the information that the informer supplied.

Massiah v. U.S. (1964)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

Incriminating statements deliberately elicited by federal agents from a defendant in the absence of their attorney deprived them of their right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment and could not be used as evidence against them at their trial.