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Supreme Court Justices

Anthony Kennedy (1936- )

Anthony Kennedy was born in Sacramento, California on July 23, 1936, the son of Anthony and Gladys (McLeod) Kennedy. Kennedy's father was a lawyer. Kennedy attended Stanford University, graduating in 1958, one year ahead of Stephen Breyer. He then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1961, a year behind Antonin Scalia. After graduation from Harvard, Kennedy practiced law in San Francisco, and then returned to Sacramento to practice law. In 1976, President Gerald Ford nominated Kennedy to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He was a member of the Ninth Circuit for a dozen years.

In 1987, Lewis Powell retired from the Court. President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert H. Bork to replace Powell. The previous year, Warren Burger had retired, and Reagan promoted William H. Rehnquist to Chief Justice and nominated Antonin Scalia to take the Associate Justice held by Rehnquist. The battle in the Senate was bruising, but was a mere skirmish compared with the Bork nomination. For conservatives, the Senate's rejection of Bork to the Court was evidence that nominations had gone beyond questions of competence to politicization. "To bork" or "borking" became a new verb in the conservative vocabulary. For liberals, the rejection of Bork was necessary if the Court was to remain within the "mainstream" of constitutional law jurisprudence, for Justice Powell had long been a crucial swing vote on the Court. After the rejection of Bork, Reagan nominated former Harvard Law School Professor and Circuit Court Judge Douglas Ginsberg to the Court. The Ginsberg nomination blew up when Ginsberg admitted smoking marijuana while a Harvard Law School professor. The third time was a charm. Kennedy was given a thorough screening by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but was easily confirmed.

As a Justice, Kennedy swings between "moderate" and "conservative" positions on the Court. He has generally voted to declare affirmative action unconstitutional, and has voted to establish judicial limits on Congressional actions based on the commerce clause power. He has generally interpreted the free speech clause broadly, and the establishment clause narrowly. Along with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Kennedy often writes concurring opinions even when he joins the majority opinion. (See, for example, Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 2002, holding unconstitutional on free speech grounds Minnesota's content-based regulation of speech by judicial candidates.) Generally, Kennedy's opinions are competent but not brilliant, and understandable but not memorable. 

He married Mary Davis in 1963. They are the parents of three children.