LAS VEGAS (AP) — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy took a professorial approach during a speech before Nevada judges and lawyers Tuesday, warning about the erosion of civil discourse and urging what he called “a decent course of conduct.”
Kennedy, introduced by Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Nancy Saitta as “the pivotal vote in landmark cases” during the terms of five U.S. presidents, took no questions and steered clear of current events during his 40-minute speech before 500 luncheon guests at the M Resort in Henderson outside Las Vegas.
With decisions on immigration and national health care pending before the nation’s highest court, Kennedy spoke of no current justices and no pending cases. He allowed no photos, audio or video recording of comments that appeared part pep talk and part warning.
“Cautious decision-making is not indecisiveness,” he said. “It’s fidelity to your oath.”
“Law is the infrastructure of freedom,” he said, “and the work of freedom is never done.”
“The rule of law is on the line,” he said. “The rule of law can’t be neglected.”
Kennedy was appointed in 1975 by President Gerald Ford to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and in 1988 by Republican President Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.
He appeared relaxed speaking before a Nevada judicial conference at the invitation of his friend and former constitutional law student, Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty. Hardesty, of Reno, has been a member of the state high court since 2004.
Kennedy mentioned Supreme Court predecessor Benjamin Cardozo during a reference to Cardozo’s 1921 book, “The Nature of the Judicial Process,” and cited former colleague Harry Blackmun’s reaction to new carpeting at the slow-to-change court.
“’Did someone change the light bulbs in here?’” he recalled Blackmun saying.
Then Kennedy leaned forward to the lectern to urge those schooled in what he called “the language of the law” to set a good example for the rest of the world with “rational, quiet, thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate.”
“The verdict on freedom is still out in over half the world, and the rest of the world is looking at us,” Kennedy said. “They see the current dialogue and discourse and they are horrified by it.”
“You’re the trustees of the next generation,” he said.
After a poolside group photo of more than 100 Nevada judges at the conference, Kennedy was due to moderate a closed-door panel involving top federal and state judges from Reno and Las Vegas. The judicial conference brings together Nevada judges for training and seminars on issues affecting state courts every four years.
Kennedy taught constitutional law at McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific from 1965 to 1988 in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif. He graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Law School and attended the London School of Economics.