Capitol Alert

Anthony Kennedy worries that civic discourse has become too ‘hostile’ and ‘divisive’

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy speaks to students from McClatchy High School at the Sacramento Federal Courthouse on March 6, 2013.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy speaks to students from McClatchy High School at the Sacramento Federal Courthouse on March 6, 2013. The Sacramento Bee file

Anthony Kennedy would like you to be more polite.

At a summit Tuesday on civic education in California schools, the U.S. Supreme Court justice and Sacramento native son lamented the harm that contemporary American rhetoric has done to our democracy, as an example to both younger generations and other countries.

“In recent years, our civic discourse has all too often become intemperate, irrational, hostile, divisive, insulting, unprincipled,” he said.

Kennedy emphasized that his remarks were not a reference to “recent political events or even to political dialogue” – perhaps a nod to how they might be construed to implicate President Donald Trump, who has been criticized for his personal attacks of opponents, like the “so-called judge” who ruled against his travel ban executive order last week.

“I’m talking about our whole culture of dialogue – reviews of movies, comments on books, advice for young people,” Kennedy said. “We have a duty to show that democracy works through a discourse that’s exciting and admirable, that’s inspiring.”

His potential future colleague on the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, recently said it was “demoralizing and disheartening” for Trump to dismiss the travel ban ruling as “so political.” But Kennedy had little to say about the effect that denunciations of the judiciary’s independent decision-making might have.

“It’ll work out,” he told The Bee, pointing to former President Franklin Roosevelt’s failed “court-packing plan” to appoint more sympathetic judges before the Supreme Court considered some of his New Deal programs.

Kennedy had a harsher view of our love affair with the internet. All that time spent online, he bemoaned during his speech, deprives us of more intimate social connections and deeper reflection on who we want to be as a society.

“Your existence doesn’t seem to be validated unless you’re on the internet,” he said. “Our lives have compressed into the present.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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