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Potter Stewart papers

Call Number: MS 1367

Scope and Contents

The Potter Stewart Papers consist of United States Supreme Court case files and supporting documentation, Appellate Court case files and supporting documentation, subject files, correspondence, writings, newspaper clippings, photographs, and audiovisual material that document Stewart's career as an associate justice of the Supreme Court and as a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The papers provide a comprehensive overview of Stewart's career from his appointment to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1954 to his retirement from the Supreme Court in 1981. The material regarding Stewart's time on the Supreme Court from 1958 to 1981 is particularly extensive, as each case that came before the court during that time period is represented in the papers. Substantive correspondence between justices is fairly rare and the correspondence in general is largely routine. The extensive photographs are a good source of information about Stewart's life away from the courtroom.

The Potter Stewart Papers were processed as a collaborative effort between Manuscripts and Archives and the Yale Law School to document the careers and accomplishments of Law School faculty and alumni.


  • 1885-1986
  • Majority of material found within 1958 - 1980


Language of Materials

The materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Original audio, film, and video recordings, as well as preservation masters and duplicating masters, may not be played. Readers may only play use copies. If a use copy of a particular recording does not exist, researchers must consult with the reference archivist for policies and procedures regarding the creation of duplicating masters and use copies of original recordings.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by Potter Stewart has been transferred to Yale University. These materials may be used for non-commercial purposes without seeking permission from Yale University as the copyright holder. For other uses of these materials, please contact

Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Potter Stewart, 1983 and 1986.


Arranged in seven series: I. Supreme Court Papers, 1958-1980. II. Appellate Courts, 1953-1958, 1981-1985. III. Correspondence, 1947-1986. IV. Subject Files, 1951-1986. V. Writings, 1954-1983. VI. Personal Papers, 1918-1986. VII. Audiovisual Materials, 1962-1968.


280.75 Linear Feet (679 Boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of United States Supreme Court case files and supporting documentation, Appellate Court case files and supporting documentation, subject files, correspondence, writings, newspaper clippings, date books, photographs, and audiovisual materials that document Potter Stewart's career as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court and as a judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. There is a small amount of documentation and photographs relating to his service on various committees outside the Court and his leisure activities with his family.

Biographical / Historical

Potter Stewart was born on January 23, 1915, in Jackson, Michigan, but grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. He received his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1937. He was awarded a Henry Fellowship to study at Cambridge University for the 1937-1938 academic year. Stewart then entered Yale Law School, where he became an editor of the Yale Law Journal and graduated in 1941. He worked as a law clerk in the New York firm of Debevoise, Stevenson, Plimpton, and Page from September 1941 to April 1942, resigning to enter the United States Navy. After completing his military service, he rejoined the firm as an associate from October 1945 until July 1946. In 1947, Stewart returned to Cincinnati and joined the firm of Dinsmore, Shohl, Sawyer, and Dinsmore. In addition to his practice, Stewart served two terms on the Cincinnati City Council.

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Stewart to fill a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Three years later, Steward received a recess appointment from Eisenhower to the United States Supreme Court to replace fellow Ohioan Harold Hitz Burton. He was confirmed by the Senate in 1958. Stewart served on the Supreme Court until July 3, 1981, when he assumed senior status and took designated assignments until his death.

During Stewart's tenure on the Supreme Court, he was often asked whether or not he would label himself as a liberal or a conservative. Stewart would reply that he did not think of himself as either one or as a swing justice. At the news conference announcing his retirement in 1981, Stewart elaborated: "I've thought of myself as deciding every case correctly, and I've never thought of myself in terms of putting a label on myself except trying to be a good lawyer and looking at every case under the Constitution and the law, even though I might think it an unwise law. I think it's the first duty of a Justice to remove from his judicial work his own moral, philosophical, political or religious beliefs and not think of himself as being here as some great big philosopher king. It's not a hierarchical organization. Your boss is only the Constitution and the law."

Throughout his service on the Supreme Court, Stewart maintained his pragmatic approach of deciding cases based upon their specific facts. Stewart is perhaps most widely know to the general public for the portion of his concurring opinion in the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio. He stated that, in attempting to define what constituted hard core pornography, "I know it when I see it."

After his retirement from the Supreme Court, Stewart was appointed in July 1983 as a member of President Reagan's Commission on Organized Crime. He died on December 7, 1985, in Hanover, New Hampshire and was survived by his wife, Mary Ann Bertles, and their three children, Harriet S. Virkstis, Potter Stewart, Jr., and David Bertles Stewart.

Guide to the Potter Stewart Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Staff of Manuscripts and Archives
July 2006
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Yale University Library
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