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May, 2006 Vol. 31 No. 2
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UH law school

Published May 2006

Decisive in Hawaiʻi

A Supreme Court jurist-in-residence reflects on students, media and judicial process

by George Furukawa (BA ’76 Mānoa)

Students enrolled in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s William S. Richardson Law School are very good, promising students. That’s the word from visiting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, standing, and federal appeals court Judge Myron Bright, seated, met with students.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, standing, and federal appeals court Judge Myron Bright, seated, met with students.

The justice should know. The former constitutional law professor and graduate of Stanford, London School of Economics and Harvard Law School has visited Mānoa’s law school four times. Three of the visits, including his most recent in February 2006, were as a jurist-in-residence, presenting talks and participating in classes.

Kennedy was accompanied by Myron Bright, senior judge for the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Bright is one of the founders and a regular participant in the law school’s Jurists-in-Residence program, which brings distinguished national judges to meet and exchange ideas with students, faculty and the local legal community.

Instituted in 1987, the biennial program is always a highlight of the year. Past participants include Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, John Paul Stevens and Byron White.

Kennedy's visit included a black-tie dinner with leaders from Oahu's legal community
Kennedy’s visit included a black-tie dinner with leaders from Oʻahu’s legal community.

"I was especially impressed with the number of foreign students enrolled at the law school here," says Kennedy. He praises UH’s law students for their curiosity, passion and perseverance in aspiring to become honorable professionals in jurisprudence.

The students were eager to ask him questions and share their personal thoughts on the nation’s judicial system, he observes. In turn, he urged first-year law students to persevere and not get discouraged by any form of adversity or disappointment.

"Our nation needs good, capable, passionate students ready to tackle the challenging issues that lie ahead. I want to encourage students to ask as many questions as necessary, until they clearly understand everything there is to know about jurisprudence."

Noting that the news media doesn’t always accurately interpret Supreme Court opinions, he suggests reporters make it a point to report opinions factually, thoroughly researching and presenting all aspects of opinions in as dispassionate a manner as possible.

Kennedy shared his own approach to rendering opinions relating to challenging, controversial cases: "I look at each case with an overall perspective in an objective a manner as possible. Each case is different, so one can’t apply a standard, fixed criteria and mindset for every case."

When he was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1975, Kennedy became one of the youngest federal appeals judges in the nation at age 38. Honored by the appointment, but also challenged by the issues that the nation faced at that time, he says he always relied on a firm grounding in personal values and jurisprudence to guide him.

"I would like to think that my views are pragmatic and not ideological on issues impacting upon the U.S. Supreme Court," the 1988 Regan appointee says. "I make it a point to look at issues from an objective perspective, being careful not to begin with any predisposed assumptions.

"That’s the real challenge, to study an issue inside and out, to look at it from every perspective possible, until you feel comfortable enough to render an opinion that you’re certain is the prudent one."

George Furukawa is a Honolulu freelance writer.

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