July 23, 1936 – Birthdate of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy

On this day in history, Anthony Kennedy was born in Sacramento, California. Kennedy graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and entered private law practice in California. He befriended many politicians, including Ed Meese, and donated large sums of money to Republican officials in the state. When Meese went to work for Ronald Reagan, Meese recruited Kennedy to help Reagan draft a tax cut plan. Reagan was impressed with Kennedy and recommended him for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which Kennedy joined in 1975 as the youngest federal judge in the country.

When Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell retired in 1987, Reagan first nominated Robert Bork, but he failed to win confirmation. Reagan then turned to Douglas Ginsburg, who withdrew himself from consideration after only nine days when allegations leaked concerning his past marijuana use. Reagan, on the advice of Meese, finally turned to Kennedy to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Kennedy’s nomination encountered little resistance and he was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. He took his seat on February 18, 1988.

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy

On June 27, 2018, Justice Kennedy at age 81 announced his retirement a of July 31, 2018 with the statement:

It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court.”

Allegedly, Justice Kennedy made a deal with President Trump, asking that he consider appointing one of his former clerks, Brett M. Kavanaugh, to the open position. (Trump’s previous court appointment was of Neil Gorsuch, also a former law clerk of Justice Kennedy.)

As The Washington Post observed about Kennedy’s legacy:

Kennedy’s role at the center of a court equally balanced between more predictable conservatives and more consistent liberals made him the most essential member of the modern court.”

Kennedy was the fifth vote (with the four liberal justices) to uphold a woman’s right to abortion. He cast the decisive vote in the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that affirmed Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark that made abortion legal nationwide. More recently, Kennedy was the key vote in 2016 to strike down strict regulations on abortion clinics in Texas.

But his fifth vote supported the other end of the political spectrum as well. Kennedy held special prominence in several politically-charged, highly anticipated 5 to 4 decisions, including the notorious Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (Docket No. 08-205), for which he delivered the opinion in 2010.

You can find an extensive list of articles about and analyses of the Citizens United decision here.

You can access a very detailed report dated July 11, 2018 by the Congressional Research Service entitled “Justice Anthony Kennedy: His Jurisprudence and the Future of the Court,” here.

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