Wednesday, Apr. 18, 2012

Anthony Kennedy

Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy may be the most influential person in American life today.

His court routinely issues decisions affecting life, death, liberty, speech, religion, property, voting, war, treaties and terrorism. Roughly one-fourth of those decisions — usually the big ones — are close calls, with the court dividing 5–4 and Justice Kennedy, 75, siding sometimes with his liberal colleagues and sometimes with the conservatives, nearly always being the decisive vote. He has been the swing vote in the court's abortion, death-penalty, discrimination, campaign-finance and criminal-procedure cases. One year, in fact, he was 24 for 24 in 5–4 cases. So crucial is his vote that lawyers regularly pitch their arguments in close cases overtly to Justice Kennedy.

In the nearly 25 years since his appointment, over the course of five presidencies, Justice Kennedy's convictions and unique sense of liberty, equality and justice have placed an indelible and enduring stamp on American life and institutions. President Obama's signature health care legislation, and possibly his re-election next November, may stand or fall based on Justice Kennedy's vote in the case, argued in March, that will likely be decided in June.

Olson served as the 42nd solicitor general of the United States and is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington