Five Facts: Justice Kennedy's Swing Vote

Since his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1988, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy often found himself as the deciding justice on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to campaign finance. Siding at times with the more conservative bloc and at other times with the liberals on the court, his centrist views changed the course of history.

As Kennedy’s replacement, newly confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh will likely be faced with similarly hard choices throughout his term.

Here are five facts on Kennedy’s “swing votes” and how these decisions shaped American life:

1. In Trump v. Hawaii (2018), Justice Kennedy voted to uphold President Trump’s ban that restricts citizens of eight predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. In this case, Kennedy aligned himself with the more conservative members of the court, and sanctioned the executive branch’s ability to make national security decisions. However, his opinion did reference the importance of protecting the First Amendment and safeguarding freedom of religion.

2. In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra (2018), Kennedy voted that a California law forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to provide health-care services information, including about contraception and abortion, was unconstitutionalIn his opinion, Kennedy noted that the U.S. government cannot force a person to deliver a message that contradicts his or her deeply held beliefs. But others, including Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, believed that clients at these centers were being been deceived and not fully informed of their reproductive health options.

3. In Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Kennedy voted to make same-sex marriage the law of the land, calling the institution “a keystone of our social order.” Here, Kennedy aligned himself with the more liberal members of the court. His opinion was one of the most historic in Supreme Court history. “No union is more profound than marriage,” he wrote, “for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.” More conservative members of the court vehemently opposed this decision and the language in which the opinion was written.

4. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), Kennedy voted to strike down campaign spending limits for corporations and unions in elections. Kennedy helped overturn the law, asserting that expenditures made by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

5. In Roper v. Simmons (2005), Justice Kennedy voted to prohibit capital punishment for those who committed crimes as minors, stressing that the world no longer subscribes to this practice. The ruling meant that 72 defendants on death row had their sentences changed, and that the age for death eligibility was raised to 18.

No Labels is an organization of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to bring American leaders together to solve problems.

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