Capitol Alert

Justice Kennedy loves Sacramento, but friends doubt he'll retire in his hometown

He may be Justice Anthony Kennedy to most people in the country, but he's still just "Tony" to his lifelong friends in Sacramento.

"We all grew up in the same neighborhood," Sacramento attorney Joe Genshlea said Wednesday as word spread that Kennedy, a Sacramento native, was retiring after more than 30 years on the U.S. Supreme Court. "We were both altar boys here at Holy Spirit Church here on Land Park Drive.

"He's a very affable, easygoing and fun to talk to, nice fellow."

Kennedy grew up in a home on East Lincoln Avenue in Land Park and was valedictorian at C.K. McClatchy Senior High School before he went on to become one of Sacramento's most prominent attorneys. He was back home as recently as April speaking at an event for the county bar association and visiting old friends.

"He always said, 'Sacramento is my true home,'" said Dave Dozier, a childhood friend who went on to be a roommate of Kennedy's at Stanford University. "He likes to drive around and see the trees and the neighborhood that he lived in, that sort of thing."

Despite that affection for Sacramento, friends say they believe Kennedy will remain living in the East once he steps down, noting that his three children and nine grandchildren are on the East Coast.

But Kennedy always has made time for activities in his hometown when asked, said retired attorney and lifelong friend John Hamlyn Jr., who called and asked him to speak to the bar association at the Arden Hills Club and Spa.

"He said, 'Oh, yeah, maybe I ought to do that,'" Hamlyn said. "We met in the playpen. I grew up and he grew up four houses apart and our parents were good friends.

"His mother would drive by with him on the way to the market and I'd be standing there in the playpen looking out the window of the den and she would bring him and stick him in with me and go out to shop. My mother would come down the stairs and there would be two boys in there instead of one."

Hamlyn, who had dinner with Kennedy and other friends at Dawson's Steakhouse in the Hyatt Regency Sacramento in April, said he had no inkling that Kennedy was preparing to retire.

"No retirement discussion came up," Hamlyn said. "At the beginning of this year people were asking me and I kiddingly called him on the phone and said, 'I'm getting all these questions. Why don't we stick to our usual policy that I don't ask and you don't tell.'"

Hamlyn said Kennedy never appeared to slow down and kept to a rigid work ethic in his job.

"He always seems to be enthusiastic about it," Hamlyn said. "I retired at age 65 and we're both 81 now. So I'd call him and he'd say I'm reading briefs, and I'd say, 'Jesus, that's a crappy job you've got there, it's Sunday.'"

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg recalled being invited to Kennedy's chambers last year during a trip to Washington, D.C.

Kennedy - whom Steinberg described as "a great gentleman" - wanted an update on the state's funding of a new courthouse in the downtown railyard. The project received its funding this year.

"Even though I've disagreed with some of his rulings, it's been a real source of pride for Sacramento that one of our own became a justice of the United States Supreme Court," the mayor said.

Kennedy's reputation as a straight arrow was legendary among friends and family, so much so that his father once jokingly offered him $100 if he would do anything to get arrested. Kennedy never collected.

His parents, Anthony "Bud" Kennedy and Gladys "Sis" Kennedy, were both prominent in the community. His father was a lawyer and lobbyist, and his mother was a civic leader who in 1980 became the first woman to be named Sacramentan of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce.

Kennedy went on to Stanford, then crossed the Atlantic to vacation.

"There are stories to be told, but I'm not going to tell them," Hamlyn said. "We toured Europe together one summer, bought a Volkswagen and spent two and a half months driving around Europe."

Kennedy continued his education after that, attending the London School of Economics, then graduating from Harvard Law School in 1961. From there, he and Hamlyn joined the Army, serving together at Ford Ord near Monterey.

Kennedy began his law career with a firm in San Francisco, then returned home in 1963 after the death of his father, and continued working with some of his father's lobbying accounts. He also helped then-Gov. Ronald Reagan draft a tax-limit initiative, and taught constitutional law for decades at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.

Once, on the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, Kennedy appeared in class as James Madison sporting a powdered wig and long-tailed coat.

Kennedy was appointed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1975 by President Gerald Ford. At the time, Kennedy was 38 and the youngest judge on a circuit court.

President Ronald Reagan tapped him for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 when he was 51, and he moved East with his wife, Mary, who was a third-grade teacher at Golden Empire Elementary School in Sacramento.

Even after 30 years in Washington, Kennedy's ties to Sacramento and McGeorge are expected to continue. The justice is scheduled to teach at the school's Salzburg, Austria program this summer for the 28th year, said McGeorge professor and constitutional law scholar Brian K. Landsberg.

McGeorge and Kennedy "have had a long relationship," Landsberg said. "He's a valuable member of our community."

Landsberg spoke of Kennedy's imprint on the court and the nation, his elegant opinions on LGBT rights and what he said was Kennedy's "emphasis on the protection of the dignity of individuals."

"Due process protects the government from degrading our dignity as human beings," he said. "That's somewhere where he made a singular contribution." Landsberg called Kennedy "the man in the middle on so many issues."

"He calls them the way he sees them," Landsberg said. "He's not an ideologue. He's tried to be a straight-shooter."

David Abbott, Sacramento Superior Court's assistant presiding judge, said Kennedy's reputation and record helped to bring attention to Sacramento's legal community and to Kennedy's alma mater.

"Justice Kennedy has provided the equilibrium for the Supreme Court for as long as anyone can remember. His connection to Sacramento has been a huge advantage for the legal community here and that would include Pacific McGeorge. He has been a very huge asset for that school.

"His outstanding record, in a meaningful way, has put Sacramento on the map. It's his hometown," Abbott said. "People refer to him as a swing vote, but with that, he achieved a great balance and helped the country achieve justice in many ways civil and criminal."

UC Hastings constitutional law Professor Zachary Price clerked under Kennedy in 2005 and said Wednesday that "it was a privilege to work in his chambers."

"I was inspired by his thoughtfulness and the way he carried he responsibility of justice," Price said. "He is very much a Californian and loves his hometown of Sacramento. It seemed to shape his outlook.

"He has a real reverence for the Constitution and he cares about passing that on to the next generation of lawyers and the next generation of Americans in general."

The Bee's Ryan Lillis contributed to this report.

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