Justice Anthony Kennedy

  • March 31, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Frederick Gedicks, Guy Anderson Chair and Professor of Law, Brigham Young University Law School

    In the wake of last week’s oral argument of the contraception mandate cases, numerous reporters and bloggers have suggested that the government’s defense of the mandate went badly because (roughly), “Justice Kennedy thinks Hobby Lobby is an abortion case.” The basis for this take is that Justice Kennedy’s questions linked the mandate with abortion rights, to which he has only a limited commitment: Justice Kennedy joined the joint opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) which upheld the “core” of Roe v. Wade (1973), but he subsequently authored the majority opinion in Gonzalez v. Carhart (2007), which upheld a federal statutory ban on late-term abortions despite the absence of health exception. (See also Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), with Kennedy dissenting to the Court’s striking down of a state ban.)

    But there’s another way of seeing Hobby Lobby. Justice Kennedy also asked questions that linked Hobby Lobby’s opposition to the mandate to the burdens a religious exemption from the mandate would impose on its employees, and he has expressed concern in past decisions about religious exemptions that shift the cost of accommodation from those who practice the accommodated religion to those who don’t. For example, Kennedy wrote in the Kiryas Joel that “a religious accommodation demands careful scrutiny to ensure that it does not so burden nonadherents or so discriminate against other religions as to become an establishment” (concurring in the judgment).

    This concern about cost-shifting religious accommodations would presumably be front and center in any case involving religious exemptions that would burden gays and lesbians. Whatever he thinks about abortion rights, there can be no question that Justice Kennedy has long been unequivocally opposed to discrimination against gays and lesbians. See United States v.  Windsor (2013); Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013); Lawrence v. Texas (2003); Romer v. Evans (1996). Indeed, it would appear from Windsor that Justice Kennedy is prepared to hold that state prohibitions and restrictions on same-sex marriage violate the both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment.

    Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) exemptions for Hobby Lobby would open the door to state religious exemptions excusing for-profit businesses from serving same-sex couples or providing certain benefits to gay and lesbian employees. A religious exemption from the contraception mandate for Hobby Lobby would establish a more general principle that for-profit businesses and their owners are entitled to statutory accommodation of their religious beliefs, even when such accommodations impose significant costs on others who do not share those beliefs. Under this principle, not only could an employer claim the right not to provide services for a same-sex wedding on religious grounds, it could also claim the right not to provide mandated employee benefits like health insurance coverage for same-sex spouses, or leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for gay employees who adopt a child.

  • June 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Beyond providing victory for equality, today’s Supreme Court opinion striking an integral provision of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act sent Justice Antonin Scalia into a fitful and contradictory rage.

    Though Scalia joined the majority opinion of Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated a congressional action, usurping Congress’ constitutional authority to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments, today he railed against the majority for invalidating Sec. 3 of DOMA, which unlike the Voting Rights Act, worked to discriminate against a certain group of people -- lesbians and gay men. So yesterday, Scalia joined his right-wing colleagues in gutting a landmark federal law aimed at preventing discrimination, while today he lodged an over-the-top dissent against striking down a provision of a blatantly discriminatory federal law. And he did so, as TPM’s Sahil Kapur notes, in fiery fashion – rather like he did in dissenting in Lawrence v. Texas issued 10 years ago today invalidating a state law discriminating against lesbians and gay men.

    According to Scalia, the majority in U.S. v. Windsor led by Justice Anthony Kennedy provided a “jaw-dropping” expansion of judicial review. “It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and every-where ‘primary’ in its role,” Scalia fumed.

    He didn’t stop there, adding the Constitution’s framers would not recognize the “black-robed supremacy that today’s majority finds so attractive.”

    Scalia, after grousing at great length, that the majority should not have decided the case, went on to provide his “view of the merits.”

    And his views on lesbians and gay men and laws that discriminate against them have not moved in 10 years.

  • June 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court found a way to come together to advance equality. It comes on the ten-year anniversary of the high court’s landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision that invalidated state anti-sodomy laws targeting gay people. 

    In U.S. v. Windsor, the majority led by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, concluded that the federal government’s refusal to recognize legally married same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

    In a 5-4 opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court dismissed on procedural grounds the challenge to court rulings that invalidated California's Proposition 8, meaning that couples in the Golden State can resume obtaining marriage licenses. The high court majority in Perry was made up of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Kagan. The majority found that the supporters of Proposition 8, which yanked the right to marry from same-sex couples in California, did not have standing to challenge the law. As David Savage reports for the Los Angeles Times, state officials won’t defend the law, which they view as a violation of equal protection, so it essentially clears “the way … for same-sex marriages to resume in California.”

    But both actions, however, follow the conservative majority’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act, and a ruling potentially limiting the use of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education. Moreover, the high court also issued opinions this week making it significantly more difficult for workers to sue employers over harassment allegations. So while today’s demise of DOMA is certainly news worthy of great celebration, it hardly changes the fact that the Roberts Court is bent on advancing a right-wing, pro-corporate agenda.

    In the DOMA case the majority did not find that there is constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The majority opinion was narrow, striking a provision of DOMA that it saw as infringing on due process and equality promises of the federal government. Noting the states’ historic and “significant responsibilities” for defining marriage, Kennedy said DOMA “departs” from the tradition with its sweeping scope. Citing Romer v. Evans, Kennedy wrote that discriminations “‘of an usual character especially suggest careful consideration to determine whether they are obnoxious to the constitutional provision.’”  In this instance DOMA did not survive that type of scrutiny.

    In this instance DOMA was denying the dignity of a same-sex marriage that had been recognized by the state of New York. The opinion authored by Kennedy included lofty language of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause and DOMA’s purpose to deprive an “unpopular group” of liberty. Not surprisingly Kennedy’s opinion provoked a sharp dissent from Justice Scalia, who joined yesterday’s majority opinion usurping Congress’ constitutional authority to enforce the promises of the 14th and 15th Amendments through “appropriate legislation.”

    “DOMA seeks to injure the very class New York seeks to protect,” Kennedy wrote. “By doing so it violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.” Citing precedent, he continued, that the “Constitution’s guarantee of equality ‘must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot’ justify disparate treatment of that group.”

  • June 24, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In an opinion not touching precedent the U.S. Supreme Court avoided invalidating on constitutional grounds the use of race-conscious admissions policies in higher education.

    In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the high court led by Justice Anthony Kennedy reaffirmed precedent that race-conscious admissions policies are not inherently unconstitutional. Instead, Kennedy found that the lower court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, failed to apply heightened judicial review to the university’s admissions policy, which takes race into account. The university’s admissions policy was challenged by a white woman, Abigail Fisher, after she was denied admissions. Fisher lodged the lawsuit against university officials arguing that its race-conscious policy violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

    Kennedy (pictured) was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself in the case and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lodged a dissent.

    In a brief majority opinion, Kennedy reaffirmed the high court’s precedent on the use of race in higher education admissions policies. Admissions policies that consider race must be reviewed “under the Fourteenth Amendment” and subject to “strict scrutiny, for when government decisions ‘touch upon an individual’s race or ethnic background, he is entitled to a judicial determination that the burden he is asked to bear on that basis is precisely tailored to serve a compelling government interest.’” Citing the same opinion, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Kennedy noted that the high court had “identified one compelling interest that could justify the consideration of race: the interest in the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

    Nevertheless, the majority punted the case back to the Fifth Circuit, finding that it failed to properly apply a heightened judicial review. Instead the Fifth Circuit, Kennedy wrote, did not subject the university’s admissions policy to rigorous review as called for in the 2003 high court opinion, Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the University of Michigan law school’s race-conscious admissions policy.

    “Strict scrutiny does not permit a court of appeals to accept a school’s assertion that its admissions process uses race in a permissible way without giving close analysis to the evidence of how the process works in practice,” Kennedy wrote.

  • March 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Even before today’s oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry, some pundits urged the Supreme Court to go slow on same-sex marriage, essentially arguing marriage should be for the states to hash out and declaring that a Supreme Court decision that all states must recognize same-sex marriage could result in a backlash, thereby setting back efforts to advance equality for the LGBT community.

    After reading the oral argument transcript, it seems that may be what happens since it did not appear a majority of justices were anywhere close to declaring that gay couples have a constitutional right to wed. That’s disconcerting since national polls and polls in California, birth of Proposition 8, reveal strong support for same-sex marriage. That’s not terribly surprising since marriage is about committed couples taking responsibility for each other and why should government officials want to discourage such responsibility.

    Instead, the high court may be ready to dismiss the Prop 8 case on a technicality for it appeared that the high court’s left-of-center justices and possibly Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy were not convinced that a few proponents of California’s anti-gay law are the proper people to be before the court.

    Before Charles J. Cooper, attorney for the proponents of Prop 8, could delve into the substantive argument against same-sex marriage, he was asked by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. to address the “standing issue.”

    Cooper said the proponents of Prop 8 “have standing to defend the measure before this Court as representatives of the people and the State of California to defend the validity of a measure that they brought forward.” (As noted in this interview with Columbia Law School Professor Suzanne Goldberg it is a bit odd for the Prop 8 proponents to insist they are representing the interests of the state of California, for the state’s governor and attorney general have both said the law should be invalidated as unconstitutional.)

    Justice Stephen Breyer pointed to a friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger saying it made a “strong argument” that the Prop 8 proponents “are really no more than a group of five people who feel really strongly” that they should vindicate the law.

    The Dellinger brief, in part, argues that the proponents of Prop 8 have “noting more than a generalized interest in” enforcement of the law.  Citing high court precedent, the brief continues, that “the generalized interest a party shares with all members of the public in proper enforcement of the laws is not sufficient” to establish standing.

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the while the California Attorney General has “no personal interest” in defending Prop 8, she does have “a fiduciary obligation,” to which Cooper agreed.

    The standing question, as the Dellinger brief persuasively argues, could prove to be the winning argument, giving the Court a way to avoid tackling the substantive question of whether gay couples have a constitutional right to wed.

    The substantive argument from Cooper and many of the groups lodging friend-of-the-court briefs centered on an alleged overriding governmental interest in marriage as a tool primarily for promoting procreation.

    Cooper said that Prop 8 proponents are arguing that the States' interest in marraige is about promoting procreation. He told Justice Elena Kagan that the “essential thrust of our position” is that the states have a really strong interest in regulating procreation.

    Justice Stephen Breyer asked Cooper, “What precisely is the way in which allowing gay couples to marry would interfere with the vision of marriage as procreation of children that allowing sterile couples of different sexes to marry would not? I mean there are lots of people who get married who can’t have children.”