Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 107

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 107


This is the grave of Potter Stewart.

Born in Jackson, Michigan in 1915, Stewart was a member of a powerful Ohio Republican family. His father was mayor of Cincinnati and then served on the Ohio Supreme Court. Stewart went to Yale and graduated in 1937. He then went to Yale Law School, finished that degree in 1941. After a stint in the Naval Reserve during World War II, he went into private practice back in Cincinnati, but he was ambitious like his father. He was elected to the Cincinnati city council but the Eisenhower administration tapped him for a slot on the Sixth Circuit in 1954. He didn’t last long there either, because Eisenhower named him to the Supreme Court in 1958, at the age of 43. He won confirmation 70-17, with all the no votes coming from Dixiecrats.

I am not a legal historian nor expert like some readers, so let me summarize Stewart the best I can and others can make revisions in comments. Stewart belived himself a centrist but his jurisprudence was quite conservative in his early years on the Court. He dissented in Griswold v. Connecticut because he rejected the right to privacy as a constitutional element. He did the same in Miranda v. Arizona. But when Warren Burger replaced Earl Warren, Stewart did become the swing vote in many cases. He voted with the majority in Furman v. Georgia, which invalidated all state death penalty laws. He also moved to the left on the right to privacy, rejecting his previous ruling in Griswold to go with the liberals in Roe v. Wade. He was also personally disgusted by the Vietnam War and wanted to use the Court’s power to act against it and was part of the majority in ruling that most of the Pentagon Papers should be released. Perhaps most famously, he came up with the famed phrase about pornography, “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” Given that it was Louis Malle’s The Lovers, he was right. He opposed discrimination based on race but also opposed affirmative action programs. He was a critical player in many other cases over his long tenure; have at it in comments.

Stewart retired from the Court in 1981 and Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to replace him. He was only 66 and hoped for a long, healthy retirement but he had a stroke and died in 1985.

Potter Stewart is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

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