Anthony Kennedy

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We must never lose sight of the fact that the law has a moral foundation, and we must never fail to ask ourselves not only what the law is, but what the law should be.

Anthony McLeod Kennedy (born 23 July 1936) is the senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on November 11, 1987, and took the oath of office on February 18, 1988. Kennedy became the most senior Associate Justice on the court following the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

Quotes[edit]

The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life…
Our system presumes that there are certain principles that are more important than the temper of the times. And you must have a judge who is detached, who is independent, who is fair, who is committed only to those principles, and not public pressures of other sort.
A democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices. That process is impeded, not advanced, by court decrees based on the proposition that the public cannot have the requisite repose to discuss certain issues. It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds.
The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature. Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.
  • Some kinds of government regulation of private consensual homosexual behavior may face substantial constitutional challenge.
    • Beller v. Middendorf, 632 F.2d 788, 809-10 (9th Cir. 1980) upholding a Navy discharge for homosexual conduct.
  • One can conclude that certain essential, or fundamental, rights should exist in any just society. It does not follow that each of those essential rights is one that we as judges can enforce under the written Constitution. The Due Process Clause is not a guarantee of every right that should inhere in an ideal system. Many argue that a just society grants a right to engage in homosexual conduct. If that view is accepted, the Bowers decision in effect says the State of Georgia has the right to make a wrong decision — wrong in the sense that it violates some people's views of rights in a just society. We can extend that slightly to say that Georgia's right to be wrong in matters not specifically controlled by the Constitution is a necessary component of its own political processes. Its citizens have the political liberty to direct the governmental process to make decisions that might be wrong in the ideal sense, subject to correction in the ordinary political process.
  • Indeed I do and I admire it. I am a practicing Catholic.
    • Alleged response to conservative senator's statement that "I think you know where I stand on abortion" (exchange occurred at White House prior to Justice Kennedy’s nomination). Quoted in Opinion Journal (1987 (date of quote) 16 October 2005 (date of article)). "Religion and the Court". Wall Street Journal.  Later, Kennedy cast doubt upon that exchange (see p. 91 of 1987 confirmation transcript).
  • The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.
    • International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (concurring opinion) (26 June 1992).
  • Sometimes you don't know if you're Caesar about to cross the Rubicon or Captain Queeg cutting your own tow line.
  • At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life…. people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail…. We conclude the line should be drawn at viability, so that, before that time, the woman has a right to choose to terminate her pregnancy…. there is no line other than viability which is more workable. To be sure, as we have said, there may be some medical developments that affect the precise point of viability, but this is an imprecision within tolerable limits.... A husband has no enforceable right to require a wife to advise him before she exercises her personal choices.
  • We must never lose sight of the fact that the law has a moral foundation, and we must never fail to ask ourselves not only what the law is, but what the law should be.
    • Quoted in Richard C. Reuben (October 1992). "Man in the Middle". California Lawyer: p. 35. 
  • In the federal confirmation process, a standard question from the judiciary committee is, "Well, if you're confirmed will you legislate?" And, with a look of horror, the nominee says, "Oh, I won't legislate." Well, what about the law of contract and tort; where do they think it came from, the stork?
    • Roth Lecture, USC Law School (20 November 1998).
  • Our system presumes that there are certain principles that are more important than the temper of the times. And you must have a judge who is detached, who is independent, who is fair, who is committed only to those principles, and not public pressures of other sort.
  • The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn from limb from limb. The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off.
  • The Supreme Court of Florida has said that the legislature intended the State's electors to "participat[e] fully in the federal electoral process," as provided in 3 U. S. C. §5. That statute, in turn, requires that any controversy or contest that is designed to lead to a conclusive selection of electors be completed by December 12. That date is upon us, and there is no recount procedure in place under the State Supreme Court's order that comports with minimal constitutional standards. Because it is evident that any recount seeking to meet the December 12 date will be unconstitutional for the reasons we have discussed, we reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida ordering a recount to proceed. Seven Justices of the Court agree that there are constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court that demand a remedy.
  • First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.
  • The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.... Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today.... As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.
  • It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty.
  • I knew Earl Warren very well, on a somewhat professional basis. Professional, as in I was a nine-year-old page boy and he was the Governor. We knew his children and played in the Governor's Mansion and so forth. I have a letter I've given to the Supreme Court Historical Society, in which he wrote and said, "You're going to go very far in government." I'm very proud of the fact that I knew well someone who later became the Chief Justice of the United States.
    • Interview for Academy of Achievement (3 June 2005).
  • Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. [...] The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it. [...] By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The Government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration. The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.
  • When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.


  • The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society. The response to the unreasoned is the rational; to the uninformed, the enlightened; to the straight-out lie, the simple truth.
  • Dignitary wounds cannot always be healed with the stroke of a pen.
  • No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
  • The freedom secured by the Constitution consists, in one of its essential dimensions, of the right of the individual not to be injured by the unlawful exercise of governmental power. The mandate for segregated schools, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U. S. 483 (1954) ; a wrongful invasion of the home, Silverman v. United States, 365 U. S. 505 (1961) ; or punishing a protester whose views offend others, Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397 (1989) ; and scores of other examples teach that individual liberty has constitutional protection, and that liberty’s full extent and meaning may remain yet to be discovered and affirmed. Yet freedom does not stop with individual rights. Our constitutional system embraces, too, the right of citizens to debate so they can learn and decide and then, through the political process, act in concert to try to shape the course of their own times and the course of a nation that must strive always to make freedom ever greater and more secure. Here Michigan voters acted in concert and statewide to seek consensus and adopt a policy on a difficult subject against a historical background of race in America that has been a source of tragedy and persisting injustice. That history demands that we continue to learn, to listen, and to remain open to new approaches if we are to aspire always to a constitutional order in which all persons are treated with fairness and equal dignity. Were the Court to rule that the question addressed by Michigan voters is too sensitive or complex to be within the grasp of the electorate; or that the policies at issue remain too delicate to be resolved save by university officials or faculties, acting at some remove from immediate public scru-tiny and control; or that these matters are so arcane that the electorate’s power must be limited because the people cannot prudently exercise that power even after a full debate, that holding would be an unprecedented restriction on the exercise of a fundamental right held not just by one person but by all in common. It is the right to speak and debate and learn and then, as a matter of political will, to act through a lawful electoral process.
  • The respondents in this case insist that a difficult question of public policy must be taken from the reach of the voters, and thus removed from the realm of public discussion, dialogue, and debate in an election campaign. Quite in addition to the serious First Amendment implications of that position with respect to any particular election, it is inconsistent with the underlying premises of a responsible, functioning democracy. One of those premises is that a democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices. That process is impeded, not advanced, by court decrees based on the proposition that the public cannot have the requisite repose to discuss certain issues. It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds. The process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is a risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage. An informed public can, and must, rise above this. The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature. Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.

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