Anthony M. Kennedy

Media Items
Personal Information
Thursday, July 23, 1936
Childhood Location 
Childhood Surroundings 
Roman Catholic
Anthony Kennedy
Father's Occupation 
Lawyer; lobbyist
Gladys McLeod
Family Status 
Associate Justice
Nominated By 
Commissioned on 
Thursday, February 11, 1988
Sworn In 
Thursday, February 18, 1988
Length of Service 
27 years, 6 months, 8 days
Anthony M. Kennedy
The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Many pundits assumed that Ronald Reagan's third choice to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Lewis Powell would not constitute his favorite nominee for the position. Ironically, however, Anthony Kennedy shared a deeper background and association with Reagan than either of Reagan's two previous candidates. Reagan chose Kennedy for the spot only after the conservatism of Robert Bork and the embarrassing admission of Douglas Ginsburg's occasional marijuana use unhinged their respective confirmations. Still, Reagan did not resort to Kennedy out of desperation, but instead turned to him as an old associate worthy of reward. In an age when ideology and influence dominated politics, Kennedy arrived at his prominent position through simple hard work and loyalty. His consistency and competence earned him a well-deserved reputation for reliability among his peers. It also served to advance his career as an attorney and judge. Described as unassuming and friendly, Kennedy has won the respect and admiration of his colleagues over the years. Kennedy often used his personality to win over allies and form unlikely coalitions.

Anthony McLeod Kennedy was born on July 23, 1936 in Sacramento, California. The second of his parent's three children, Kennedy grew up in the quiet Sacramento community that reflected the rural Central California region. Kennedy's father, Anthony J. Kennedy, worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for various businesses. He had a well-established law practice and a reputation for influence in the California legislature. His mother, Gladys McLeod, participated in many Sacramento civic activities. Kennedy attended a local Sacramento high school and Stanford University. He spent a year of his undergraduate studies at the London School of Economics and earned his A.B. and a Phi Beta Kappa key in 1958. After Stanford, Kennedy enrolled in Harvard Law School where he graduated cum laude. Kennedy returned to California after law school and worked as an associate for a law firm in San Francisco. When his father dies unexpectedly two years later in 1963, Kennedy returned to Sacramento to take over his father's practice. That same year, Kennedy wed Mary Davis, whom he had known for many years. Together, they would have three children.

Kennedy spent many years working on the practice that his father had left him. Although he lacked experience as a lawyer, many of his father's important clients stayed with him out of respect for his father. Kennedy's clients soon discovered their new lawyer to have just as much, if not more, legal skills than his father. Kennedy had a talent for socializing and soon made many friends among the influential Californian politicians. He often entertained clients and guests at lavish parties and exclusive restaurants. Kennedy also donated large sums of money on behalf of himself and his clients to various political officials in the state. Through his work as a lobbyist, Kennedy befriended Ed Meese who represented the California District Attorney Association at that time. The two, sharing similarities in age and background, became close friends. Meese left to work for then-Governor Reagan in 1966 and Kennedy continued his work as an attorney and lobbyist. The two men did not lose touch with each other, however, and Kennedy continued to help Meese and Reagan in small capacities. Kennedy also taught constitutional law for a brief period during this time at the McGeorge School of Law of the University of the Pacific. In 1973, Meese recruited Kennedy to help Reagan draft a plan to cut taxes and spending. Kennedy helped draft Proposition One, a ballot initiative to limit the state's spending. He campaigned throughout the state to push the passage of the proposal and his efforts won him Reagan's favor. Despite the initiative's failure, Reagan rewarded Kennedy for his work by recommending him to President Gerald Ford for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Kennedy joined the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1975 as the youngest federal judge of his day. Carter expanded and flooded the Ninth Circuit Court with liberal judges during his presidency and Kennedy soon became the head of the court's conservative minority. In the turbulent and often divided Ninth Circuit Court of that time, Kennedy often held majorities with few dissents. His narrow case-by-case approach and his refusal to resort to sweeping conclusions and rhetoric won him the support of many colleagues. Even his opponents admired Kennedy's well-crafted and thoughtful opinions. When Justice Lewis Powell retired in 1987, Kennedy appeared on a short list of possibilities for Reagan's nomination. Reagan nominated Robert Bork first, but the conservative Bork met fierce opposition in the Senate and ultimately failed to win confirmation. Reagan then turned to Douglas Ginsburg, a judge from the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit. Ginsburg, however, withdrew himself from consideration after only nine days when allegations leaked concerning his past marijuana use. Reagan, on the advice of Meese, finally turned to Kennedy to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Kennedy's nomination, unlike Reagan's two previous picks, encountered little resistance. Most observers viewed him favorably and even liberals thought of him as pragmatic and fair-minded. The Senate unanimously confirmed Kennedy on February 3, 1988 and he took the oaths of office a few days later.

Kennedy's experience as a federal judge allowed him to make a quick and easy transition to the Supreme Court. Since then, Kennedy has voted consistently with his past record on many issues. He remains conservative on crime issues and still refuses to broaden the scope of his opinions. He has been effective in holding unlikely coalitions on the Court. Rehnquist often relies on Kennedy's ability to build bridges between the Court's conservatives and liberals. In this sense, Kennedy is an important pivot on which close decisions turn. Kennedy has recently become an important part of the Court's growing centrist bloc.

Clerksort icon Law School Terms Clerked
Adam H. Charnes Harvard (1991) 1992
Alexander J. Willscher Chicago (2000) 2001
Allon Kedem Yale (2005) 2009
Andrew C. Baak Chicago (2003) 2004
Andrianna Kastanek Northwestern (2005) 2007
Anthony J. Vlatas Columbia (1994) 1996
Ashley C. Keller Chicago (2007) 2008
Ashutosh Bhagwat Chicago (1990) 1991
Bertrand-Marc Allen Yale (2002) 2003
Bradford A. Berenson Harvard (1991) 1992
Brett C. Gerry Yale (1999) 2000
Brett M. Kavanaugh Yale (1990) 1993
Brian R. Matsui Stanford (1999) 2002
C.J. Mahoney Yale (2006) 2007
Chi T. Kwok Yale (2002) 2003

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Anthony M. Kennedy. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <>.
Anthony M. Kennedy, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 26, 2015).
"Anthony M. Kennedy," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015,