Justice Anthony Kennedy Addresses Nevada Judiciary

Every four years, Nevada holds a week-long Judicial Leadership Summit for judges from all jurisdictions within the state. The 2012 Nevada Judicial Leadership Summit was held April 30th through May 4th in Las Vegas, and included federal judges from the District of Nevada. The keynote speaker was U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justice Kennedy spoke at Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada Las Vegas during the morning of May 1st and then joined the Nevada Judiciary (and about 250 members of the Bar) for a luncheon and address at the M Resort.

L to R: Chief Justice Nancy Saitta, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Associate Justice James Hardesty. (Photo by Beau Sterling)

“A functioning legal system is part of the capital infrastructure. It’s as important as roads, bridges, schools,” he said. “You have to have an efficient, fair, decent, transparent, open legal system.”

Justice Kennedy discussed the state of American legal education and the role elections play in choosing judges.

“It is up to the members of the bar to step up and show that judicial elections work. Since Andrew Jackson, judicial elections have been a part of the American political landscape, and it seems to me somewhat unrealistic going around and saying we should have no elections,” Kennedy said. “The question is: Can we use these to teach what judicial integrity is? … Judicial independence isn’t so the judge can decide as he or she chooses; it’s so he or she can decide as they must.”
Justice Kennedy said legal professionals must work to uphold the integrity of the judicial system to show the importance it plays in functioning democracies, addressing the roles of law schools, the Bar, and the Bench.

Justice Kennedy’s speech dovetailed nicely with a plenary educational session later in the week that saw former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus address the judges on the topic of “The Rule of Law Versus The Will of The People.” Former Chief Justice Ternus spoke about the ramifications that the Varnum v. Brien decision had on the Iowa Supreme Court. Former Chief Justice Ternus and two of her colleagues who were turned out of office as a result of the decision (a textbook civics lesson on Judicial Review) received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award the week after speaking at the Summit.

The 2012 Nevada Judicial Leadership Summit was comprised of multiple tracks over two and a half days, with over 50 faculty, and was more than 14 months in planning.