How to use Justice Kennedy’s legacy in picking his replacement

The nation’s intense battles over Supreme Court nominees could use a few lessons from the retiring justice’s main theme: dignity.

Reuters
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy arrives for President Donald Trump's address to Congress in Washington February 28, 2017.

One legacy that Justice Anthony Kennedy leaves as he retires after three decades on the US Supreme Court is some principled guidance on how to hold a dignified debate over choosing his successor. As members of the Senate arm themselves for a battle royal over President Trump’s nomination, they may want to build on, rather than ignore, his judicial legacy.

When he wrote the court’s official opinions, Justice Kennedy often sought a path for many of those who lost their legal case to see their views expressed in policy. This went far beyond his strong defense of free speech. Governance to him was not a zero-sum choice between the demands of the left and the right but rather a search to define what he called “transcendent” attributes and the “spiritual imperatives” necessary for a complex world.

Before Elena Kagan joined the high court as a justice, she described Kennedy as its most influential member because of his “independence, his integrity, his unique and evolving vision.” In many of the court’s biggest decisions, he was the swing vote, and for good reason. He sought to interpret the Constitution in ways that could ensure that the inner conscience of individuals and their outward responsibilities were not in conflict.

To achieve that, he relied heavily on the basic principles of liberty, privacy, and universal equality, then mixed all three to emphasize the intrinsic value of dignity.

In Kennedy’s focus on dignity – either to preserve it or bestow it – he saw the makings of social cohesion and healing. Or as he put it in a talk, “Most people know in their innermost being that they have dignity and that this imposes upon others the duty of respect.”

Such thinking was usually evident, if not always accepted, in his most important rulings, such as those on campaign finance, same-sex marriage, religious exercise, and the rights of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. In many cases, he saw the best course to ensure the continuance of dignity was to set boundaries on government power. In others, he saw such power as necessary to end any harm to dignity.

Dignity is not something defined from the outside. Each individual is endowed with it. Guarding it in the way Kennedy did can help engender respect for the dignity of others.

Dignity is not a source for division but, if recognized, can be the basis for what Kennedy calls the best interpretation of the “mandates and promises” of the Constitution. “I am searching, as I think many judges are, for the correct balance in constitutional interpretation,” Kennedy stated.

Dignity was his lodestar. And perhaps it can also be the starting point for the coming national discussion over his replacement.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to How to use Justice Kennedy’s legacy in picking his replacement
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2018/0628/How-to-use-Justice-Kennedy-s-legacy-in-picking-his-replacement
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe