‘Kennedy’s Court’: Meet 80-year-old Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, who’s rumored to retire soon

As rumors of his retirement swirl in political circles, Justice Anthony Kennedy wraps up his 29th year on the Supreme Court without an announcement that he’s stepping down.

But the 80-year-old justice could still declare he’s retiring later this summer, as former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor did in 2005. That year, the Court adjourned June 27, and she issued a press release on July 1.

A conservative who can lean moderate in cases that concern individual freedoms, Kennedy has often provided the deciding fifth vote on cases without a clear majority. As someone who has frequently voted to support women’s and LGBT rights, Kennedy’s absence could definitively swing the Supreme Court to the right.

Here is a look at the Supreme Court justice who often shifted the balance on some of the court’s most controversial cases – so much so that many have even called it “Kennedy’s Court.”


Anthony McLeod Kennedy was born in Sacramento, California in 1936. Kennedy grew up with parents who were politically active, and often met well known lawmakers as a young boy.

Source: Biography.com


After finishing college at Stanford, Kennedy graduated from Harvard Law School, spent a year in the army, and then went on to teach constitutional law at the University of the Pacific in California.

Sources: SCOTUS, Biography.com


A devout Roman Catholic, Kennedy has often been described as a “goody-goody” in his early years. While on a summer trip to Europe, Kennedy once kept a bottle of whisky given to him by his father intact throughout the trip.

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Anthony Kennedy at the Red Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington.
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Reuters/Jason Reed

Source: U.S. News


Kennedy has been married to Mary Davis since 1963. The couple has three children.

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Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, center, and his wife Mary Davis, right, attend a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Source: Biography.com


In 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed him to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which oversees Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

Source: SCOTUS


Appointed by President Ronald Reagan and unanimously confirmed by the Senate, Kennedy was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice in 1987.

Source: Biography.com


More conservative during his early years in the Supreme Court, Kennedy started taking more moderate positions as time went on.

Source: Biography.com


Throughout his time as a Supreme Court justice, Kennedy gained a reputation as a “swing” vote. He has at times voted more liberally on issues that concern individual freedoms.

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Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
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Wikimedia Commons

Source: Biography.com


As the court’s strongest moderate, Kennedy often offers the decisive vote in controversial cases. In 2005, he moved the court against tighter gun control and toward individual rights to possess a firearm.

Source: Supreme Court Review


In the same year, Kennedy also provided the fifth vote in a ruling that gave people arrested on suspicions of terrorism the right to challenge their detention in court.

Source: Supreme Court Review


“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,” Kennedy once wrote in a ruling that upheld the landmark Roe v. Wade case guaranteeing women’s constitutional access to abortion.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy testifies about judicial security and independence before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington February 14, 2007.
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Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Source: Slate


Kennedy has also emerged as an unexpected LGBT rights icon. He has frequently voted in support of their rights and, in 2015, was the decisive vote in legalizing gay marriage across the country.

Sources: Politico, Business Insider


“The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons can together find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality,” Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion on the landmark case. “This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.”

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Supporters of gay marriage rally in front of the Supreme Court in 2013.
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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Source: Business Insider


Kennedy’s “swing vote” reputation was cemented after other moderate Justice O’Connor retired in 2005. Still, Kennedy himself has reportedly hated being called the “swing vote” in the media.

Source: “Supreme Conflict – The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court


In April 2017, Kennedy swore in Neil Gorsuch as the new Supreme Court Justice. President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the spot left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Gorsuch once served as a law clerk for Kennedy.

Sources: SCOTUS, Business Insider


Kennedy has often angered Republicans for failing to side with other conservatives on key issues. As rumors of his retirement swirl, many liberals worry that Kennedy’s absence would swing the Supreme Court decisively in Trump’s favor.

Source: Biography.com, CNN


On average, justices serve about 16 years on the high court. The longest serving member was Justice was William O. Douglas, who served for 36 years, 7 months, and eight days from 1939 to 1975.

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Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan look on as President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of the Congress on February 28, 2017.
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Source: SCOTUS


Kennedy, who turns 81 in July, has served for over 29 years and four months. He is the longest-serving justice currently on the court.

Source: SCOTUS, Biography.com