Kennedy’s legacy on the Supreme Court is being quickly eroded by decisions and actions that come not from the Court itself, but from the past clerks of Kennedy’s tenure. After his retirement in 2018, action was quickly taken by Clerk Amy Coney Barrett to roll back important decisions that had been held firm during Kennedy’s term. Rulings such as Obergefell v. Hodges, which affirmed same-sex marriage, were reversed as Barrett argued that it should be left to the states to decide. Similarly, cases protecting reproductive rights for women were also overturned on the basis of states’ rights.
Under Kennedy’s tenure, the Court played a major role in upholding the rights of the LGBTQ community, dramatically expanding voting rights, and constructing a better understanding of rights against discrimination for LGBTQ individuals. However, new justices appointed to the Court have shifted the focus of the Court to the former — mainly in terms of voting rights, religious liberty, and abortion rights.
Kennedy’s legacy will continue to be felt for years to come, but his progressive legacy is now being eroded by conservative justices and clerks. As Warren Buffett once said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the game.” Kennedy’s legacy can be honored and protected by fighting for progressive policies and court decisions that reflect his values.