On this day in Supreme Court History—February 18, 1988: Justice Anthony Kennedy Takes the Oath of Office

On this day in 1988, Justice Anthony Kennedy was sworn in as the 104th Justice of the Supreme Court.

President Ronald Reagan nominated Kennedy as an Associate Justice on November 12, 1987. Kennedy was Reagan’s third attempt to fill the seat of Justice Lewis Powell, who had retired the previous June. Reagan’s first two nominations failed: Judge Robert Bork was rejected by the Senate; and then Douglas Ginsburg withdrew his name from consideration after revelations involving his use of marijuana. In nominating Kennedy, Reagan said that Kennedy, who had been serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit since 1975, ”seems to be popular with many senators of varying political persuasions.” Reagan’s assessment proved correct. The Senate confirmed Kennedy by a vote of 97-0 on November 30, 1987.

On February 18, 1988, Chief Justice William Rehnquist administered the judicial oath (required of all federal judges) to Justice Kennedy in the Supreme Court chamber. Justice Kennedy then took his seat on the far right side of the bench, reserved for the most junior member of the Court. Later that day, the Chief Justice gave Justice Kennedy his Constitutional Oath of Office (required of all federal employees) at a White House ceremony.

At the White House ceremony, Reagan gave a brief speech, after which Rehnquist gave brief remarks thanking the president for holding the ceremony at the White House. After Rehnquist administered the oath, Justice Kennedy gave a speech thanking the President and the Chief Justice. “The presidency, the Congress, and the courts,” Kennedy said, “are committed to the constitution and to the rule of law, and to the heritage of freedom.” In his concluding remarks, Reagan said that Kennedy’s career, like that of Justice Powell’s, “has been marked by his devotion to a simple, straightforward, and enduring principle: that we are a government of laws, not of men.”

Kennedy served on the Court until his retirement on July 31, 2018.

This Post Was Written by ISCOTUS Fellow Bridget Flynn, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, edited by ISCOTUS Editorial Coordinator Matthew Webber, Chicago-Kent Class of 2019, and ISCOTUS Co-Director and Chicago-Kent Faculty Member Christopher W. Schmidt.


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