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Anthony Kennedy is an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court who was appointed by Ronald Reagan.
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Setting aside ideology, Kennedy took a case-by-case approach, keeping his opinions narrow and avoiding sweeping conclusions and rhetoric. This tactic earned him the respect of opposing judges and lawyers alike.
Kennedy's distinguished tenure on the Ninth Circuit put him on the short list of candidates to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in 1987. Instead, President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert H. Bork,
whose outspoken demeanor and sharply conservative views on constitutional law and social policy led to his rejection by the Senate. The quieter Kennedy was eventually nominated and was unanimously confirmed.
Early in his tenure, Kennedy proved to be markedly conservative. In his first term, he voted with Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia, two of the court's most conservative members, more than 90 percent of the time.
With Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Kennedy contributed critical votes that led to winning conservative majorities in cases limiting congressional authority under the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States and striking down portions of gun-control legislation. In subsequent years, however, his decisions were more independent.
Parting ways with his conservative colleagues in 1992, Justice Kennedy co-authored (with O'Connor and Justice David Souter) the court's majority opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which held that legal restrictions on access to abortion must not constitute an “undue burden” on a woman's exercise of her right to abortion as established in Roe v. Wade (1973).
Kennedy has been, if anything, a surprising and unpredictable justice on the Supreme Court, displaying thoughtful independence that at times, fails to reflect any particular ideology. His episodic departure from conservative jurisprudence reflected a civil-libertarian perspective on certain individual rights.
For example, although he was generally deferential to the government on criminal law and related matters, he voted, along with Scalia and the court's liberals, to declare unconstitutional a Texas law that prohibited the desecration of the American flag, on the grounds that the Constitution protects such acts as symbolic speech.
He also wrote the court's decision in Romer, Governor of Colorado v. Evans (1996), which voided an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that prohibited state and local governments from enacting laws that would protect the rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals and in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) he declared unconstitutional Texas's law criminalizing sodomy between two consenting adults of the same sex.
It was in the case of Lawrence v. Texas that Supreme Court observers noted Justice Kennedy became a leading proponent of using foreign and international law as an aid to interpreting the U.S. Constitution. He referred to foreign laws enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the European Court of Human Rights in supporting his decision.
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