‘Kennedy’s Court’: Meet 81-year-old Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy, who just announced his retirement

Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court on Wednesday after serving on the bench for 30 years.

“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy wrote in a statement announcing his retirement.

The 81-year-old Justice was appointed to the nation’s highest court in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan.

A conservative who leaned moderate in cases that concern individual freedoms, Kennedy often provided the deciding fifth vote on cases without a clear majority. As someone who 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 2008, 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


While upholding Trump’s travel ban on Tuesday, Kennedy took several veiled shots at Trump, warning that government officials are not “free to disregard the Constitution and the rights it proclaims and protects.”

Source: Business Insider


Kennedy has often angered Republicans for failing to side with other conservatives on key issues. With the announcement of his retirement, many liberals worry that Kennedy’s absence will 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 82 in July, has served for over 30 years and four months. Upon his retirement, he was the longest-serving justice currently on the court.

Source: SCOTUS, Biography.com