At Law School, Justice Kennedy Reflects on Cases, Time as Student

In an hour long question and answer session at Harvard Law School on Thursday, United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy discussed a breadth of topics ranging from his time on the Court, concepts of dignity and freedom, and his own time as a student at the Law School.

Kennedy also reflected on the role of the judge and Constitution in American life, at one point brandishing a copy of the document he had in his jacket pocket.

Kennedy has been a justice on the Supreme Court since 1988. Over the summer, he wrote the majority opinion in the Obergefell v. Hodges, extending the right to same-sex marriage in every state, an outcome that several Law School professors predicted earlier in the year. Often considered to be the deciding or “swing” vote on the nine-member judicial body, Kennedy joked about the term on Thursday, saying he didn’t like its sense of “spatial gyration.”

“The cases swing, I don’t. Thank you for not including that,” Kennedy said to laughs. Kennedy is also the longest actively serving faculty member at the McGeorge of School of Law at the University of the Pacific.

Dean of the Law School Martha L. Minow, who moderated the discussion, eventually opened up the event to questions from members of the packed crowd in Milstein Hall; Kennedy answered questions on campaign finance laws and recommended reading material, including Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.”

When Minow asked him what he had learned as a Law School student, Kennedy again turned to humor to describe his studious days as a student.

“I remember a lot of the cases I had in Law School better than cases I’ve worked with,” Kennedy said to laughs.

Later in the discussion, Kennedy turned to more specific legal and judicial questions. He called solitary confinement “an ongoing injustice of great proportions” after recounting an experience he had alone in a cell while training for the army. He also said, “What happens with money in politics is not good,” in response to a question from the crowd, though he defended the free speech principles incorporated in the majority opinion he wrote in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a landmark campaign finance law that eased or erased many political fundraising limitations and regulations.

Kennedy also described his process when he writes decisions.

“You write an opinion differently if it’s railroad reorganization or human rights; there’s a different audience,” he said.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.


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