Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy speaks with a law student after class during a surprise visit to McGeorge last fall.

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Colleagues, friends of Justice Kennedy comment on landmark marriage equality ruling

Jun 26, 2015

University of the Pacific colleagues and friends of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed pride in his role in Friday's landmark decision on marriage equality. Kennedy, a Sacramento native and longtime professor at Pacific McGeorge School of Law, cast the deciding vote and wrote the majority opinion.

"University of the Pacific is deeply proud that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the longest-serving active faculty member in Pacific's McGeorge School of Law, was the pivotal vote and wrote the majority opinion in today's historic civil rights decision," Pacific President Pamela A. Eibeck told hundreds gathered at the Sacramento Campus to hear about the five new programs to be offered at that campus. "Today we celebrate the right of all Americans to marry, regardless of their sexual orientation."

Kennedy wrote in that majority opinion: "Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion." Justices supporting the ruling were Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

An ardent advocate of civil liberties, Kennedy has taught in the Pacific McGeorge international law summer program in Salzburg, Austria, for all but one of the past 24 years. He taught Constitutional Law as a member of the Pacific McGeorge faculty from 1965 until his appointment to the Supreme Court by President Reagan in 1988. At 78, he has advanced legal equality for gays more than any other American jurist.

McGeorge colleagues comment:

Francis J. Mootz III

"Justice Kennedy's opinions in the four cases dealing with gay rights have demonstrated his commitment to both equality and liberty, and I am very proud that our students have the opportunity to learn about constitutional law from him each summer," said Francis J. Mootz III, dean of McGeorge School of Law.

Lawrence Levine

"What a joyous time," said Lawrence Levine, a McGeorge professor and a frequent panelist, lecturer, and speaker on legal issues involving sexual orientation. "As the first openly gay law professor at Pacific McGeorge, arriving to the law school in the mid-'80s when  the law school would easily be characterized as not a terribly hospitable place for LGBT faculty, staff and students,  it is gratifying to see the transformation of the law school over the last couple decades into one of the most LGBT welcoming in the country. That my colleague, Justice Anthony Kennedy, has become the 'patron saint of the LGBT community' with his Constitution-based jurisprudence conferring upon us a dignity and equality that had been elusive for far too long, culminating in Friday's decision providing nationwide equal access to marriage, is a source of great pride and jubilation." 

Leslie Gielow Jacobs

"Just last fall, Justice Kennedy paid a surprise visit to my constitutional law class to teach for a day. His comments about individual liberty and the role of a Supreme Court Justice make today's majority opinion, written by him, unsurprising," said Leslie Gielow Jacobs, professor of law and director of McGeorge's Capital Center for Public Law and Policy.  

"The decision hinges on an individual liberty to enter into the intimate relationship of marriage. The gist of the dissents is that judges should not exercise their power to find a right like the right to gay marriage. Justice Kennedy's response in his opinion for the majority--consistent with his comments to my class--is that sometimes circumstances demand that judges do just that.  

"Today's decision, like the court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education 60 years ago, holds that individuals denied a constitutional right should not be required to wait any longer to enjoy it," Gielow Jacobs said. "Like Brown, this decision interprets the federal Constitution to change state laws across the nation, and will have an enormous impact."

Brian Landsberg

"Justice Kennedy closely follows earlier cases that held that marriage is a fundamental right, and he explains the reasoning that supports those cases," said Brian Landsberg, a McGeorge professor, Constitutional Law expert and a former attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. "His opinion is animated by the question: Why should gays and lesbians not have the same fundamental right? Earlier Kennedy opinions had established that fundamental rights extended to all, regardless of sexual orientation. His is a pragmatic opinion, relying on the real world consequences of denying same-sex couples the right to marry. Pointing out the many rights that accompany marriage, he says, 'There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to [the centrality of marriage to "so many facets of the legal and social order"]'

"The dissents decline to apply the holdings of the earlier cases and essentially refight earlier battles over the meaning of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution," said Landsberg. "They argue that the issue of same-sex marriage should be decided by democratic processes, not by five justices of the Supreme Court. Yet the dissenters in recent years have not hesitated to overthrow the results of the democratic process, such as the Voting Rights Act, portions of the Affordable Care Act, and local school district programs to enhance racial integration.

"Both Justice Kennedy and the dissenters agree that religious institutions and ministers should be free to reject same sex marriage and to refuse to solemnize or recognize the marriage. They disagree on two questions. If marriage is a fundamental right, does that include same-sex marriage? And is a ban on same sex marriage like a ban on interracial marriage? Underlying both disagreements is the question whether the Constitution protects "equal dignity" from state invasion. Justice Kennedy says yes; the dissenters say no. Equal dignity will no doubt continue to be a contested concept in future cases."

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