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Kennedy: How Far Did He Swing?

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Justice Anthony Kennedy did not like to be called "the swing vote."

"The cases swing," he said at a Harvard Law School event. "I don't."

As much as he tried to laugh it off, however, Kennedy's reputation stuck with him through his last Supreme Court case. Some observers say his position changed over the years, but that's how he got there. Here are some of the cases that Kennedy swung most dramatically.


Kennedy authored four major opinions expanding gay and lesbian rights. In terms of conservative v. liberal justices, he consistently fell to the left side of the spectrum on the issues in:

In Obergefell, Kennedy authored the 5-4 decision that opened the door for same-sex couples to marry. It may well be his most memorable swing decision.

First Amendment

In a surprise to many, Kennedy changed course in one of the last decisions of his career. It pitted gay rights against free speech, and speech won.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Kennedy wrote an opinion that secured his legacy as the swing man. He said that Colorado showed an anti-religious bias against a baker who refused to serve a same-sex couple.


Abortion ranks highest among the hot-button issues before the U.S. Supreme Court in recent history. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Kennedy joined the narrow majority in reaffirming much of Roe v. Wade.

In the vacuum of his retirement, Court-watchers are holding their breaths about how the next justice will vote on similar Kennedy cases. As for Planned Parenthood, only time will tell how far his swing will go.

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