Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement from the United States Supreme Court. Conservatives will cheer his retirement and subsequent replacement knowing the Court will move further to the right, imperiling abortion rights and marriage equality. Justice Kennedy was the “swing vote” on the Court protecting Roe V. Wade and wrote the Obergefell decision declaring marriage equality the law of land. However, Justice Anthony Kennedy was a negative force on the Court and his legacy should not be one of a progressive hero.
Justice Kennedy was nothing more than a corporate conservative who happened to be right on a few important social issues. Kennedy voted to stop the recount in 2000 in a dubious opinion that allowed George W. Bush to be made president by order of the Court. The Hobby Lobby decision could have been averted if Kennedy had sided with women who sought access to birth control. Kennedy also joined the majority to gut the Voting Rights Act – a move expected of a Jim Crow supporter, not a progressive champion. Finally, Kennedy was the deciding vote to allow massive amounts of corporate money to flood our politics and poison voters’ perception about democracy in the Citizens United case.
In his last decisions, Kennedy sided with corporations over working people, voted to uphold Donald Trump’s racist Muslim ban and sided with anti-abortion zealots over women seeking the truth about health care options – all final nails in the coffin of a legacy based more in extremist ideology and less on the rule of law.
Progressives should rightly be concerned about Kennedy’s retirement and what it means to the balance of a Court that hasn’t sided with the people in a generation. But, we should resist the urge to build monuments to a man when his overall impact on our nation was for the worse.