Ever since the court announced on Friday—after eight years of silence on the issue—that it was going to hear a major abortion case, all eyes have been fixed on Justice Anthony Kennedy. He will certainly be the decisive vote in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole this summer. On this issue, among so many others, it’s a foregone conclusion that wherever Kennedy goes, the court will follow.
The newest gay rights icon wears a drab black robe and got his job from Ronald Reagan. Perhaps no American political figure has been more consequential in gay and lesbian Americans’ fight for equality than Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the author of Friday’s majority ruling that essentially legalized gay marriage around the United States. That decision is the latest in a string; despite officially being a member of the high court’s conservative wing, Kennedy has written every major opinion in support of LGBT Americans since 1996.
The Supreme Court handed a major victory to the Obama administration and civil rights groups on Thursday when it upheld a key tool used for more than four decades to fight housing discrimination. The justices ruled 5-4 that federal housing laws prohibit seemingly neutral practices that harm minorities, even without proof of intentional discrimination. The case involved an appeal from Texas officials accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by awarding federal tax credits in a way that kept low-income housing out of white neighborhoods.
Justice Anthony Kennedy was furious when a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama's healthcare law. As he read the dissenting opinion from the bench three years ago, his anger was palpable. The majority regards its opinion "as judicial modesty," he declared. "It is not. It amounts instead to a vast judicial over-reaching."
On Tuesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy made an argument that could lead the Supreme Court to strike down same-sex marriage bans across the country. The argument came during oral hearings before the Supreme Court — and to understand its importance, you need to know what the two sides are actually arguing. Proponents of marriage equality hold that states' same-sex marriage bans are discriminatory and should be ruled unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, which requires that states apply all laws equally to all people without violating their fundamental rights. Opponents of same-sex marriage don't dispute that the marriage bans deliberately exclude gay and lesbian couples. Instead, they argue that the state has a compelling interest to exclude such couples. That interest? Kids.
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared sharply divided on Tuesday on whether the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage, but pivotal Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed to inch cautiously toward legalizing gay nuptials nationwide. In 2-1/2 hours of arguments, the nine black-robed justices peppered lawyers on both sides of the issue with questions in the landmark case centering on a contentious social issue, but appeared split as they often do along ideological lines. Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close cases and has a history of backing gay rights, posed tough questions to both sides but seemed to give hope to gay marriage advocates by stressing the nobility and dignity of same-sex couples.
I once heard the late Daniel Schorr describe the difficulty of covering the post-Stalin Soviet Union, a dreamlike mirror world of shadows and symbols where important changes might be signaled by the seating chart at a state dinner or the choice of music on Radio Moscow's evening classical program. Schorr would have felt right at home in the U.S. Supreme Court, which determinedly refuses to explain itself to the public, and the operations of which are ill-suited to speed. The Court’s procedure is so complex that even experienced hands are often puzzled, and it has sometimes been suggested that everyone who could understand a given question is dead.