CRS Report: Justice Anthony Kennedy: His Jurisprudence and the Future of the Court

An excerpt from Justice Anthony Kennedy: His Jurisprudence and the Future of the Court (R45256 July 11, 2018):

Unlike several other Justices on the Court, Justice Kennedy did not necessarily subscribe to a particular judicial philosophy, such as originalism or textualism. Instead, Justice Kennedy’s judicial approach seemed informed by a host of related principles. First, Justice Kennedy’s views on the law were often grounded in concerns for personal liberty, particularly freedom from government interference with thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. His emphasis on liberty manifested itself in a range of opinions he wrote or joined during his tenure on the Court, including on issues related to free speech, religious freedom, and government policies concerning same-sex relationships. Second, the structural protections of the Constitution—i.e., restraints imposed on the federal government and its respective branches by the doctrines of federalism and separation of powers—also animated Justice Kennedy’s jurisprudence. For Justice Kennedy, separation of powers was a “defense against tyranny,” and he authored or joined a number of Court opinions that invalidated on separation-of-powers grounds intrusions on the executive, legislative, or judicial functions. Likewise, during the Rehnquist Court and Roberts Court eras, Justice Kennedy joined several majority opinions that recognized federalism-based limitations on the enumerated power of the federal government, established external limitations on Congress’s legislative powers over the states, and reaffirmed protections for state sovereignty. Third, Justice Kennedy’s jurisprudence was undergirded by his view that the Court often has a robust role to play in resolving issues of national importance. With Justice Kennedy casting critical votes, over the last 30 years the Court has reasserted its role in a number of areas of law in which it was previously deferential to the judgment of the political branches.

— Joe

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