Justice Anthony Kennedy

So he turned to an old colleague who had paid his dues and brandished a stellar record. That nominee was Anthony Kennedy.

Born in central California in 1936, Kennedy’s father ran a respected legal practice and his mother was active in community affairs. After attending public school in Sacramento, Kennedy went on to Stanford for his bachelor’s degree where he also spent a year at the London School of Economics. Like many of his fellow justices, Kennedy went from Stanford to Harvard for his law degree and graduated cum laude.

After law school, Kennedy went to work for a private law firm in San Francisco. His father unexpectedly died in 1963 and Kennedy returned to Sacramento to run his father’s law firm, a post he held for the next 12 years. He also served as a professor of constitutional law at the University of the Pacific from 1965 to 1988.

After establishing ties with then California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s influential inner circle, President Gerald Ford appointed Kennedy to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1975 on the Reagan camp’s recommendation. In the face of a court loaded with liberal judges, Kennedy quickly became the leader of the conservative minority with his thoughtful and balanced opinions. During these years, Kennedy also served on the board of the Federal Judicial Center and on two committees of the U.S. Judicial Conference.

When Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell retired in 1987, President Reagan first nominated Judge Robert Bork to replace him. The strongly conservative Bork met fierce opposition in the Senate and did not win confirmation. The president then turned to Judge Douglas Ginsburg, but Ginsburg withdrew himself from consideration after allegations of past drug use surfaced in the press. Reagan then turned to Kennedy, who virtually sailed through the confirmation process and was widely viewed by conservatives and liberals alike as balanced and fair. He was sworn into the Supreme Court on Feb. 18, 1988.

Kennedy has maintained a generally conservative record in the high court and has been a key part of the court’s lean toward the center on divisive issues. He has helped shaped unlikely coalitions and is known for his ability to negotiate compromises between some of the more outspoken members of the bench.

“Our system presumes that there are certain principles that are more important than the temper of the times,” Justice Kennedy told the PBS program Frontline in an interview. “And you must have a judge who is detached, who is independent, who is fair, who is committed only to those principles, and not public pressures of other sort. That’s the meaning of neutrality.”

Kennedy and his wife Mary have three children.