Justice Kennedy’s key Supreme Court opinions

Longtime Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday. Here’s a look back at his key opinions during his more than 30 years served on the nation’s highest court.

FREE SPEECH – Can a group identifying itself as a religion organisation pass out literature on its faith at a public place like an airport?

“The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.”

— Concurrence in International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee ( 1992)

ABORTION RIGHTS – State restrictions on access to the procedure.

“At the heart of autonomy is the right to define one’s own theory of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

“People have organized intimate relationships and induced selections 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.”

— Concurrence in Schemed Parenthood v. Casey ( 1992)

VOTING STANDARDS – Florida’s methods for counting contested ballots in the 2000 presidential election

“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. SS5. That statute, in turn, requires that any disagreement 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 for the purposes of the State Supreme Court’s order that comports with minimal constitutional criteria. 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 Justice of the Court agree that there are constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court that demand a remedy.”

Bush v. Gore ( 2000 ). Although the controlling majority opinion was unsigned sources have told Fox News it was largely written behind the scenes by Kennedy and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

FREE SPEECH – Challenge to a federal law placing severe limiteds and penalties on the depiction and distribution of material deemed child pornography

“First Amendment liberties are most in danger when the governmental forces seeks to control believed or to justify its laws for that impermissible objective. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the start of thought.”

Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition ( 2002)

EQUAL PROTECTION – Re-examination of a 1986 high court precedent upholding nation statutes criminalizing homosexual sodomy.

“Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant lawsuit involves liberty of the person or persons both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.”

“As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”

Lawrence v. Texas ( 2003)

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT – Death penalty for aggravated slaying committed by those under age 18.

“When a juvenile delinquent perpetrates a heinous crime, the State can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic autonomies, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his potential to reach a ripen understanding of his own humanity.”

“It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against children and juveniles death penalty.”

Roper v. Simmons ( 2005)

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM – Congressional statute curtailing corporations and unions from supporting individual candidates through independent expenditures. The court said political speech is a protected to a large extent by the First Amendment.

“This Court now concludes that independent[ political] expenditures, including those made by firms, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

“Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. The right of citizens to wonder, 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 entails deprive the public of the right and privilege to ascertain 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 employs censorship to control believe. This is unlawful. The First Amendment corroborates the freedom to think for ourselves.”

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ( 2010)

FREE SPEECH – A public official who falsely claimed to have been awarded the Medal of Honor challenged his prosecution under a federal law inducing it international crimes to lie about receiving military decorations.

“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.”

U.S. v. Alvarez ( 2012)

GAY MARRIAGE – Challenge to nation statutes that ban same-sex wedding and that refusal to recognize legal same-sex matrimonies that occurred in other jurisdictions.

“The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person or persons, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exert the fundamental right to marriage. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.”

“Dignitary wounds cannot always be healed with the stroke of a pen.”

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it personifies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, love, 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, matrimony embodies a love that may suffer even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of matrimony. 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 organizations. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution awards them that right.”

Obergefell v. Hodges ( 2015)

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION – Challenge to state law banning use of racial criteria as part of the overall admissions process by country universities.

“Our constitutional system espouses, too, the right of citizens to debate so they can learn and choose and then, through the political process, act in concert to try to shape the course of their own periods and the course of a nation that must strive always to build 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 an historic background of race in America that has been a source of misfortune 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 comprehend of their constituencies; 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 scrutiny and control; or that these matters are so arcane that the electorate’s power must be limited because the people cannot prudently exert that power even after a full debate, that holding would be an unprecedented limits on the exercise of a fundamental right held not just by person or persons 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.”

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action ( 2016) plurality opinion

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