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Justice Anthony Kennedy Essay

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Updated: Apr 13th, 2020

Biography of Justice Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy was born in the year 1936, in California. He attended a variety of learning institutions such as Stanford and London School of Economics (LSE) thus receiving his B.A. He then joined Harvard Law School (HLS) and studied for an LL.B. He ran a private practice in San Francisco from 1961 to 1963, subsequently moving to Sacramento. He conducted legal business in Sacramento from 1963 to 1975.

Kennedy also taught law at the University of the Pacific for a period of 23 years, from 1965. He was nominated by Reagan as a Justice and took office in 1988. It is noteworthy that he is married to Mary Davis with three children. Justice Kennedy conforms to Republican ideals although he votes with the liberal wing of the Supreme Court at times. In recent times, he has been crucial in determining the outcome of some cases by the provision of the deciding vote.

Case with Justice Kennedy writing the majority opinion

In 2003, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by the government against a decision by the Supreme Court located in Missouri. A bench consisting of nine men led by Justice Rehnquist listened to the concepts of the case. Much as it was a close call, it ended in a 5-4 during voting.

The court accordingly upheld the decision of the Court in Missouri with Kennedy writing for the majority opinion. Other Judges who held similar views thus voting with him were Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Souter. The other side, led by Rehnquist had judges Scalia, Thomas, and O’Connor, with Scalia and O’Connor providing dissents.

The case titled State v. Simmons, involves Christopher Simmons, a minor who was sentenced to death after examination and conviction for murder in the first-degree (Gross, Roth, Stewart & Young). The Supreme Court located in Missouri has sole influence over death related cases consequently upholding the conviction and verdict.

He filed several appeals, but all were dropped for one reason or the other. In 1989, the Court resolved that putting to death of juveniles was not a breach of the 8th amendment. This was due to the lack of national harmony on the matter thus depriving his grounds for appeal. Consequently, the death penalty was neither pitiless nor unusual (Gross, Roth, Stewart & Young).

This changed in 2002 after the Supreme Court analyzed concepts presented in the case titled Atkins v. Virginia. It was decided that applying the death sentence to a mental retard was brutal, especially upon citing changes in public opinion, in reference to a similar ruling (Gross et al.). The consensus had been achieved against executing mental retards hence it became a contravention of the 8th amendment.

Simmons then appealed to the Missouri Supreme court in 2003. The court acknowledged this, given that like in the Atkins case, it was possible to establish that compromise had been achieved on that matter. It is not forgotten that public opinion was overwhelmingly against the execution of minors. The government appealed to the Court, arguing that allowing evolving standards as sufficient grounds for State Courts to overturn decisions taken by the Supreme Court was dangerous (Oyez).

The Court listened to the case, to establish if the Supreme Court located in Missouri rightfully ruled that putting to death a minor was cruel and unusual hence a desecration of the 8th and 14th amendments. It was also required to ascertain whether or not public opinion had changed since Stanford v. Kentucky (Oyez).


As he wrote for the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy argued that the minors should be allowed to mature and fully understand their own humanity hence the state could only withhold certain liberties from them. He noted that the penalty had already been rejected in majority states, a fact he attributes to evolved standards and decency which showed progress in the society (Oyez).

I agree with the majority decision since most youths behave in certain ways as a direct consequence of manipulation or immaturity. Capital punishment would be extremely harsh as they have little or no control over their actions. Most jury practices and legislative enactments have been against executing juveniles, and this also shows condemnation for the move. Moreover, 30 states have enacted legislation against the same.

Works Cited

Gross, Valerie. Roth, Margaret. Stewart. Kenda &Young, Geoffrey. (No. 03-633) 2004. Web.

Oyez. . Pocket Justice. Web.

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