History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


Potter Stewart

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From the personal collection of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark


Extra fine early Supreme Court card

Potter Stewart, 1915–1985.  Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1958–1981.  3½" x 4½" Supreme Court chambers card signed Potter Stewart.

This is a beautiful, pristine card.  It is also an early one.  It bears the old Washington, D.C., zone code “25" in the printed address.  By 1963, five years into Stewartʼs term on the Supreme Court, the postal service began phasing out zone codes in favor of the five-digit ZIP code that is still in use today.

The centrist, cautious Stewart was often a dissenter from liberal Warren Court decisions.  Among them were Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), which held that the state of New York could not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the stateʼs public schools at the beginning of each school day, even though students were free not to recite it.  Stewart dissented, arguing that the Court “misapplied a great constitutional principle" and that he could not “see how an ʻofficial religionʼ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it."  In Griswold v. Connecticut, 481 U.S. 479 (1965), which held a state statute preventing the use of contraceptives was an unconstitutional violation of the right of privacy that the Court found in a “penumbra" of the Bill of Rights, Stewart dissented, arguing that although the law was “uncommonly silly,” he nevertheless could not hold that it violated the Constitution because he could find no constitutional provision that prohibited it.

President Richard Nixonʼs appointment of four conservatives—Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Associate Justices Harry A. Blackmun, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and William H. Rehnquist—changed the philosophical landscape of the Supreme Court.  Stewart thus often held sway as the swing vote necessary to forge a majority on the 1970s Burger Court.  In that position, Stewart became an extremely influential Justice.  For example, he provided the fifth vote to outlaw the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), but announced the opinion for a plurality of three that formed the basis for reinstating the death penalty four years later in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976).

President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Stewart to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, headquartered in Cincinnati, in 1954.  He elevated him to the Supreme Court in a recess appointment in 1958 to succeed retiring Associate Justice Harold Burton.  The Senate confirmed Stewartʼs appointment in 1959.

Stewart has signed this card in blue-black fountain pen.  Unlike many of Stewartʼs later signed Supreme Court cards, this one does not have a typewritten date or other typed wording to accompany the signature.

Provenance:  This note comes from the personal collection of Justice Tom C. Clark, who served on the Supreme Court from 1949 until 1967. Justice Clark collected the autographs of other Supreme Court Justices dating back into the 19th Century.  We are privileged to offer a number of items from the collection.

Unframed.  Please ask us about custom framing this piece.


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