For the five years since the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor from the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy—a 1961 graduate of Harvard Law School—has wielded what many consider the most important vote on the Court.
Kennedy’s ballot has often been the least predictable, often deciding whether the Court will decide conservatively or liberally.
“He is the critical swing vote on many constitutional matters,” said David W. Adamany ’58, a law professor and former president of Temple University who was also a Law School classmate of Kennedy’s.
But in his time at Harvard, there were few hints that Kennedy would one day be the critical vote on the highest court in the nation. Despite graduating cum laude from the Law School, classmates describe Kennedy during that time as a friendly, regular student.
FRIEND TO MANY
In law school, friends could always spot Kennedy in a crowd by looking for his most distinctive feature: a green sweater, which he reportedly wore every day.
“Whether the green sweater ever got sent to the cleaners, I’ll never know,” says University of Virginia Professor Robert M. O’Neil ’56, recalling the look of Kennedy, whom he sat next to in constitutional law class at the Law School.
Friends said the thoughtfulness and humility that characterized Kennedy as a student have continued throughout his career on the bench.
“He was a very conscientious student,” O’Neil says. “He was easy to like and always was around friends.”
“Even in his exalted status, Kennedy has always been modest and straightforward,” he adds.
From his early years, law school seemed like an inevitability for Kennedy, whose father was an influential lawyer in Sacramento.
“There was really, really no choice. My dad was an attorney.” Kennedy said in a 2005 interview with the Academy of Achievement. “I’d say, ‘Oh, I have a geometry test.’ He said, ‘I’ll teach you whatever you need to know.’ So, I probably saw 10 trials before I was out of high school.”
Although Kennedy did not like school when he was younger, he grew to like it, earning admission into Stanford University and spending his final year of his undergraduate education at the London School of Economics before attending Harvard.
Those who know Kennedy stressed that today he defies the stereotype of a stuffy old judge.
“He’s by no means a dull or severe personality—very lively personality with a great sense of humor,” Adamany says. He notes that Kennedy hosted an event at the Law School’s 50th reunion for the Class of 1961 this past April, appearing alongside fellow Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who graduated from the Law School in 1986.