Adieu to the double agent. With political polarization being what it is nowadays, this may be, to paraphrase Tony Montana, the last time we’re going to see a double agent like this again.
I am speaking, of course, of the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy earlier this week.
Nominated by President Reagan in 1987, ostensibly as another conservative judge, Kennedy became the so-called the ‘swing vote’ in the Supreme Court after 2006; standing in between four staunch conservative and four staunch liberal judges. Hence his opportunity as the double agent.
Most infamously, Kennedy cast the deciding vote and wrote the majority opinion in the case which allowed for same-sex marriage nationwide.
He also reaffirmed Roe v. Wade in 1992 to a bombardment of conservative criticism, and again sided with liberals in striking down a restrictive Texas abortion law nine years later. Only recently, Kennedy cast the deciding vote and wrote the majority opinion in a case in support of affirmative action.
For devoted Reaganites, Kennedy’s nomination remains a glaring sore spot in the great lionization of Reagan’s conservative legacy.
Don’t get carried away. It’s not as though Kennedy was some sort of liberal.
He sided with conservatives on gun control and voting rights; that is, he didn’t like either. He stood with corporations and big polluters as they took on environmental protection. And, he cast the deciding vote and authored the majority opinion in the Citizens United case, which struck down limits on contributions to political campaigns by corporations. In this way, Kennedy stands as a seminal figure in the establishment of the oligarchy. They should carve his face into a mountain next to Jeff Bezos.
Oh, and he also stood with conservatives in Bush v. Gore, making him, I suppose, a seminal figure at the moment Americans realized their votes didn’t matter.
In many ways, the legacy of Anthony Kennedy – the double agent, or is it the double-double agent? – stands representative of an entire era, not of Republicans but of moderate Democrats.
He stood resolutely beside liberal ideology on a select few hot-button issues – abortion, marginally, gay rights after public perception shifted, affirmative action as only the most surface-level interaction with the intersectionality of race issues. Meanwhile, on issues like campaign finance, environmental protection, voting rights, and others, he was eminently conservative.