A wing of Sacramento's federal courthouse was christened Thursday evening the Justice Anthony M. Kennedy Library and Learning Center, with the beaming U.S. Supreme Court member in attendance.
The invitation-only event was preceded by a reception in the rotunda of the Robert T. Matsui United States Courthouse, followed with remarks by stars of the legal world and topped by a stemwinder from the guest of honor.
The guests then repaired to the adjacent library, where a bronze statute of Kennedy cradling a law book was unveiled. The piece was created by renowned Greek sculptor Vangelis Moustakas and is a gift to the library and learning center from Angelo K. and Sofia Tsakopoulos, prominent Sacramento citizens and longtime friends of Kennedy and his wife, Mary Kennedy, both Sacramento natives.
Moustakas traveled from Greece to be at the unveiling and was introduced to the guests by Angelo Tsakopoulos.
The inscription on the base of the sculpture "Liberty Comes Not From Officials By Force But From The Constitution By Right" is appropriate for one of the world's most dedicated constitutional evangelists.
Brief remarks were made before the unveiling by Morrison C. England Jr., chief judge of the U.S. District Court based in Sacramento; Doris Matsui, a congresswoman and widow of the late congressman for whom the courthouse is named; Joe Genshlea, attorney and boyhood friend of Kennedy; and Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and one of the first two law clerks for Kennedy when he was named to the circuit court.
Kozinski said his old boss is "transcendent" and "the greatest Supreme Court justice of his generation."
Then it was Kennedy's turn. For a full 20 minutes, without referring to notes or missing a beat, he transfixed his audience with a passionate talk about the vitality of the law and how it must be preserved from generation to generation.
The evening was a culmination of an idea that U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller brought back to Sacramento after visiting a learning center in the federal courthouse in St. Louis.
The route from idea to reality was not without a speed bump.
There was concern on the part of some federal judges in the Central Valley as to how a learning center would be financed and that it might be viewed as an unnecessary luxury.
Mueller, who acted as mistress of ceremonies Thursday, found allies in now-retired U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. and ultimately Kennedy, both of whom are convinced that a democracy depends on educating its young people about the three branches of government their history and how they interact and about each citizen's civic obligations.
The center has been set up under the umbrella of a charitable, nonprofit public benefit corporation. The foundation will seek individual and institutional support from public and private foundations that focus on making gifts and grants to support public education.
No federal employees have any part in the fundraising, and the foundation has strict protocols to avoid the appearance of using the prestige or offices of the judiciary to further its goals.
The center will include activities to train primary and secondary school teachers how to impart to their students the role and importance of our constitutional system, and to enhance civic literacy and appreciation of our legal heritage and founding principles.
There will also be exhibits drawing on real cases that have come before the region's federal courts in order to bring to life government, the law and citizenship.
The evening left everyone in attendance with smiles, perhaps the widest one adorning the face of the hometown justice.
Now it's back to the grind for Kennedy. From now until June, when the last of this session's opinions will be announced, is the court's busiest time.
"There are a lot of 70-hour weeks this time of year," Kennedy said Wednesday in an interview.
"Mary feeds me lettuce to keep me going. I think I will probably be a rabbit in the next life. Mary believes she will be a law library."
Call The Bee's Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.