The Supreme Court The Supreme Court - Image of hands holding a gavel.
Check local listings
Home Timeline Games Supreme Court History
The Future of the Court
Biographies of the Robes
E-Mail this Page Print Format Glossary

Portrait of Anthony Kennedy
Portrait of Anthony McLeod Kennedy.
Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Anthony McLeod Kennedy

b. July 23, 1936, Sacramento, CA

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Son of a lawyer and state lobbyist in Sacramento, the young Anthony Kennedy was acquainted with Earl Warren and other California politicians. For five years he was a page for the California State Senate, where his mother worked as a secretary. During high school he helped in his father's office, proofing documents and sitting at the counsel table during litigation. He attended Stanford University, spent his senior year at the London School of Economics, and graduated in 1958, Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Harvard Law School, where he graduated cum laude in 1961.

Kennedy joined a San Francisco law firm, but he returned to Sacramento in 1963, when his father died, to take over his father's practice. Despite his inexperience, many of his father's clients remained with the firm while Kennedy honed his legal and political skills. He socialized with politicians, entertained clients with lavish parties, and made large donations to state politicians on his own and his clients' behalf. During this period he met Ed Meese, a fellow lobbyist, and they became close friends. Meese later went to work for California Governor Ronald Reagan, and in 1973 he brought Kennedy on board to help draft a ballot initiative to cut taxes and government spending. Kennedy impressed Reagan, who recommended him to President Gerald Ford for a vacancy on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kennedy joined the appellate court in 1975, becoming, at age 39, the youngest of all sitting federal judges. He distinguished himself by his conservatism, his avoidance of broad conclusions, his attention to the details of each case, and his articulate and careful opinions. In 1987, when a seat became vacant on the Supreme Court, President Ronald Reagan first nominated Robert Bork, who met with heated opposition in the Senate. After a second nominee also withdrew, Reagan took Meese's advice and nominated Kennedy. He was confirmed in the Senate by a unanimous vote and joined the Supreme Court in February 1988.

Kennedy has ruled narrowly on the merits of each case and avoided sweeping principles that would apply in subsequent cases. Congenial and easygoing, he has served as a bridge between the liberal and conservative blocs of the Court, and he has often provided swing votes. As liberal judges have departed, Kennedy has become associated with the Court's growing bloc of centrist justices. A libertarian at heart, he interprets the Fourteenth Amendment as granting broad rights, including a right to privacy and a right to abortion; takes the First Amendment's protection of free speech as sweeping; and believes in maintaining a strong separation between church and state. On the other hand, he grants wide latitude to law enforcement and opposes affirmative action.

During the break between Court sessions, Kennedy teaches international and American law for the McGeorge School of Law international program at the University of Salzburg, Austria.

John Fox, a writer and documentary film producer, was series producer of the Emmy-winning PBS series HERITAGE: CIVILIZATION AND THE JEWS. Editor-in-chief of the award-winning HERITAGE DVD-ROM, he supervised the creation of its 540-map interactive atlas of world history. He is currently writing a book about the growth of communal intelligence over the centuries.

Anthony Kennedy David Souter Clarence Thomas Ruth Bader Ginsburg view all biographies Antonin Scalia John Paul Stevens Stephen Breyer John Roberts Samuel Alito