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If you like Anthony M. Kennedy's story, you might also like:
David Boies,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Rudolph Giuliani,
Alberto R. Gonzales,
Frank M. Johnson,
George J. Mitchell,
Ralph Nader,
Anthony Romero,
Albie Sachs,
Barry Scheck,
John Sexton and
Antonio Villaraigosa

Anthony M. Kennedy's recommended reading: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Related Links:
Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court Historical Society

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Anthony Kennedy
Anthony Kennedy
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Anthony Kennedy Interview (page: 2 / 6)

Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

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  Anthony Kennedy

What inspired you, what motivated you when you were growing up?

Anthony Kennedy: I don't know. It may be that I had a certain amount of insecurity, as all young kids do. I was a skinny kid.

In the summer, I got jobs in the oil fields. My uncle was in the oil business, and so at the age of I think 14, I got my first job kind of cleaning up around the oil rig. And then, I learned how to do that, and I went to Montana, Canada, New Orleans. I worked on a drilling barge on the Gulf in the summer. You could make a lot of money in those days, by the standards of those days, in the oil fields, and so I saved that to help for my education, and I loved it.

What do you think you learned from those experiences? As a page in the State Senate or working in an oil field?

Anthony Kennedy: I think I maybe learned more in the oil fields than I did in the State Senate. I think there's a lot of wisdom in the working man and the working woman. I think they're very concerned with what the country is like, what their life should be like. And I think that taught me a lot, because I was the butt of many jokes when I was a little kid working with these high-powered people in the oil fields, and I had to learn to adjust to that and try to pull my own weight.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

What was most difficult for you growing up?

Anthony Kennedy Interview Photo
Anthony Kennedy: I don't know that I had any particular challenges, other than wanting to do the right thing, making sure that with life's many choices, you made the right choice. I had an easy childhood. I had devoted parents, a brother and sister, lots of friends. It didn't seem difficult, but I wanted to achieve.

Did you want to follow in your father's footsteps?

Anthony Kennedy: I did. I wanted to be a trial lawyer. I went to Stanford, and then I went to the London School of Economics, and then Harvard Law School.

What did you do after law school? Where did you get your first job?

Anthony Kennedy Interview Photo
Anthony Kennedy: I wanted to be back in California to be near my dad, who wasn't well. So I started in San Francisco with a big firm, and then when I lost my dad, I came back up to Sacramento to see if I could start up his practice. I actually went to close the practice, but it reached out and engulfed me and I never got out. So I started with his solo practice.

How did you move from this law practice to a career in public service?

Anthony Kennedy: I wasn't sure I wanted to be a judge. But some of the people I admired most in the community were judges. I loved the law. I thought I could best contribute to the law as a judge. I really wanted to be a trial judge. You see real people. You can influence the course of some particular person's life in a way that's more immediate than you can as an appellate judge, which is a writing exercise. If most people could see what an appellate judge does, they would find it very uninteresting. It would be like following the life of a writer. You don't have the excitement of juries and witnesses.

What does it take to be a good judge?

Anthony Kennedy: I was teaching this last summer at the school for judges in Europe, which is in the Netherlands, and their system is different from ours. In Europe -- many parts of the world -- right out of school, you elect one of two paths: you're either a judge or an attorney. And so, you're a judge at the very beginning, although you begin as just a clerk for the court, but you work your way up the judge's ladder. So, I was teaching a class for young judges, and so they were in their late 20's, and a lovely woman raised her hand, and she said, "How can I be a good judge if I still need to know so much concerning the world around me?" And, it was one of those questions I wasn't prepared for, but everybody was quiet, so it was also one of the defining moments of the class. If you're a classroom teacher, you never know, you stumble sometimes on what's a dynamic moment. And, I said -- so she asked me, "How can I be a good judge if there's so much I still have to learn concerning the world around me?" and I said, "If you always ask yourself that question, then you will be a good judge. If you realize that your learning doesn't end when you go on the bench, it begins anew, then you'll be a good judge." That was the answer I gave her.

You have to struggle to be neutral, you have to struggle to be impartial, which is why the courts have rules. Some people say, "Oh, these judges are so stuffy. They have these traditions, the black robe." This is designed to remind you that your function is greater than you are. You must represent something that's greater than you are, and that's the law, which has a life and a language and a logic of its own.

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 15:28 EST
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