Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was honored Thursday evening with the inaugural Bolch Prize for the rule of law by the Bolch Judicial Institute of Duke Law School.
“You have embodied the ideals of fairness, human rights and the rule of law,” said Duke University President Vincent Price.
Judge Allyson K. Duncan, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, praised the retired Justice’s international work and his sharing of best practices, critical work to preserving the rule of law, she said.
His former colleague, current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito highlighted his service and dedication to many, many cases — in his 30 years on the high court, he authored 266 opinions of the court and 544 in all; he sat on more than 2,400 cases, he said.
Alito also said Kennedy was about the lesson of civility and was always dedicated to the perseverance of human humility and humanity. He also called attention to Kennedy’s dedication to always hearing both sides of every argument.
“It’s vitally important in our legal system that both sides be heard,” he said. “I don’t know anybody whose work embodies ore open mindedness.”
Kennedy has served in numerous positions during his career, including a member of the California Army National Guard in 1961, the board of the Federal Judicial Center from 1987 to 1988, and two committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States: the Advisory Panel on Financial Disclosure Reports and Judicial Activities, subsequently renamed the Advisory Committee on Codes of Conduct, from 1979 to 1987, and the Committee on Pacific Territories from 1979 to 1990, which he chaired from 1982 to 1990.
He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1975. President Ronald Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat February 18, 1988. Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court last summer.
Kennedy is widely recognized for his devotion to the Constitution and his efforts to share the ideals of liberty and democracy with students and audiences around the world. He has spoken frequently of his commitment to the rule of law and the need for a judge to always be neutral and fair, according to his Bolch biography.
“Through public appearances and teaching engagements, Justice Kennedy has worked to build public understanding of and appreciation for the role of an independent judiciary in a functioning democracy,” it states. “He has lectured at law schools and universities in many countries, speaking about the rule of law and the connections between economic and social progress and a system of laws that protect freedom and prevent corruption. And he has helped to develop educational tools about the rule of law and the role of the judiciary for students in the United States and abroad.”
At the ceremony Thursday honoring Kennedy, he spoke about how essential it is for the rule of law to be properly defined to defend freedom and human dignity.
“The law comes from the people to the government, and that law must human dignity and human freedom, and the law must be accessible,” he said.
The rule of law, Kennedy said, has been under attack and to fight it, the first thing people must develop again is a civil dialogue. Much like the glass award he received, the law can show new beauty and new dimensions when the light shines through, but it can also be broken.
“Once the rule of law is broken, it requires great effort to fix it, and you’re not as sure it will be as beautiful the next time,” Kennedy said.
He added that he was inspired and honored, and would cherish the award to rededicate time to teaching and writing and continuing to advance the law, “that in the end must bind us.”
The Bolch Judicial Institute is dedicated to bettering the human condition through studying and promoting the rule of law, according to its website. Established at Duke Law School in 2018 with a $10 million gift from Carl Bolch Jr. and Susan Bass Bolch, the Institute develops research, scholarship, and educational programs in three focus areas: the rule of law; courts and judging; and law and technology.