I had the honor of meeting retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on several occasions. While he was on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, he taught Constitutional Law at McGeorge School of Law. I took his class during the 1984–1985 academic year.
Learning Constitutional Law from Anthony Kennedy is a class I will always remember for several reasons. His class was the most fascinating and interesting one I have ever taken. I have always had a great love for history and acquired both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in American History before attending law school. Justice Kennedy did a brilliant job at explaining the legal decisions that impacted the path of American history. His classes were so alluring, that students at McGeorge who were not even enrolled in his class would drop in just to hear him lecture and debate with students. He was famous for his lecture on the “New Deal” and it was “standing room” only. Unenrolled students, McGeorge School of Law Professors, and other members of the community alike would pack the room just to hear the “New Deal” lecture. Justice Kennedy even dressed up in Colonial Era clothes—including a powdered wig, when talking about cases involving that time period in American history.
A few years after my class with Justice Kennedy, President Reagan had the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice. A lot of people in the Sacramento area and nation thought that Justice Kennedy would be at the top of the list. Nobody at McGeorge School of Law was a bit surprised when he was eventually nominated and confirmed. Now that Justice Kennedy is 81 years old, and after serving 30 years on the Supreme Court, he has surely earned his retirement and can now spend more time with his family.
While I am very happy for Justice Kennedy I am saddened we have lost one of the greatest Supreme Court justices of my lifetime. Kennedy is truly an independent thinker and didn’t get caught up in partisan politics. In other words, he was not “bought and paid for.” He was frequently the deciding vote of many 5-4 decisions that were often controversial and “hot button” issues. He ruled in favor of some major conservative issues like gun control and privacy rights while also ruling in favor of more liberal issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and LGBTQ concerns. When an attorney argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, the argument was often geared towards Justice Kennedy. That is just how important he was on the nation’s highest court. In 100 years, his name will still be ringing in the halls of American jurisprudence. He just announced his retirement a few days ago – I miss him already.