Justice Stevens, Edward Levi, and the Chicago School of Antitrust

Stevens and antitrust
George L. Priest and William Ranney Levi
The National Law Journal
May 24, 2010

Most articles describing retiring Justice John Paul Stevens' career on the U.S. Supreme Court have focused on his progressive shift over time to the Court's liberal wing. It has not been noted that Stevens deserves principal credit for initiating the vast change in the Court's understanding of antitrust law since the late 1970s, as the Court came to embrace the economic antitrust analysis of the Chicago School, perhaps his most lasting contribution.

Prior to his appointment to the bench, Stevens was an antitrust lawyer in Chicago; he was also a longtime friend of Edward Levi, an antitrust professor at the University of Chicago Law School, later dean and president of the university. Levi and Stevens were schoolmates from elementary school through college.

After President Nixon resigned in disgrace over Watergate, his successor, Gerald Ford, appointed Levi attorney general in order to restore integrity to the highest levels of the Justice Department. In his short tenure, Ford had one Supreme Court vacancy to fill. He put Levi in charge of the search; Levi recommended Stevens. President Ford has stated that his most lasting achievement was the appointment of Stevens to the Supreme Court.

Earlier, as a professor, Levi had taught a now-legendary antitrust course with the economist Aaron Director. Director was also the head of an antitrust research program at Chicago that supported the work of scholars such as Robert Bork, John McGee and Ward Bowman, among others, who were highly critical of then-prevailing antitrust doctrine on economic grounds, showing repeatedly that Supreme Court rulings almost uniformly harmed competition, rather than promoted it. Richard Posner, the prominent scholar and 7th Circuit judge, continued this work at Chicago.

Richard A. Posner