Look up a handful of Supreme Court cases from the past three decades and it will give you an understanding of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s significance on the court in contemporary American life.
Take for example, Roper versus Simmons. Essentially the case of a wayward youth who committed and confessed to the robbery and murder of a Missouri woman in 1993.
Upon conviction, Christopher Simmons, 17, was sentenced to death. The court overturned that death penalty and in Kennedy’s opinion further solidified the concept of “evolving standards of decency.” It’s a landmark ruling that considers psychology, maturity and responsibility.
Simmons is now serving a life sentence, instead of being administered a lethal injection.
But it wasn’t just criminal cases, where Kennedy’s vote made a difference. In a hearing on the 2nd Amendment — D.C. versus Heller, the court, with Kennedy in concurrence ruled that the right to keep and bear arms protects “an individual right to possess a firearm — unconnected with service in a militia.
In Citizens United, Kennedy wrote that “Political spending is a form of protected speech under the 1st Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections.”
That has had a massive effect on political campaigns. And, I can guarantee that in this upcoming election cycle — when it’s likely the battle to replace Kennedy will be fought at the ballot box — it will loom large. Just wait.
In Gonzales v. Raich, the court and Kennedy affirmed the federal government’s power to go after marijuana dealers — even in states where pot is legal. The ruling took place in 2004 but has implications today — especially as more and more states choose to legalize weed. The ruling explains why banks won’t take Mary Jane money and why –even though completely legal — marijuana still feels sketchy.
The thing is, if you don’t like any of these decisions, you can burn the flag It’s a right protected by the 1st Amendment and laid out in the opinion in Texas v. Johnson, where justices wrote: ‘If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
Sadly, offensive and disagreeable has become the tone in Washington D.C. We will see that only grow as the battle to replace Kennedy gets underway.