Justice Anthony Kennedy Retires: A List of His Most Influential Decisions on Gay Rights, Gun Ownership and More

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday after spending 30 years atop the nation's highest court and handing down some of its most important decisions.

Kennedy, who was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan and assumed his role in 1988, said in a statement that he intended to spend more time with his family, despite their being "willing for him to continue to serve."

The shocking announcement came after the court handed down on Wednesday its final two decisions for cases heard last fall. After the cases were announced, no justices had offered word on their future plans on the court.

That is, until Kennedy, who was the second most senior member of the court behind only Chief Justice John Roberts, revealed a decision that will have huge consequences for the nation. He has now given President Donald Trump his second opportunity to install a new member of the court after his appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.

Kennedy was long viewed as the "swing vote" on a court that has become more conservative since Roberts was tapped by former President George W. Bush. Recent conservative decisions by the court and Kennedy's votes, however, have altered that perception.

Here are some of the biggest cases that were swung by Kennedy's vote.

District of Columbia v. Heller, 2009

This 5-4 vote became a landmark for Second Amendment defenders. Ultimately the decision nixed a Washington, D.C., law that banned handguns after a police officer's application to obtain a one-year license for one was denied. The court found the law violated the Second Amendment, and Kennedy joined the other more conservative judges: Roberts, the late Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 2010

A decision that ultimately labeled donations to political campaigns as free speech, Kennedy wrote the narrow decision for the majority and explained that corruption could only occur if a donation directly resulted in a "quid pro quo" with a politician.

Romer v. Evans, 1996

The case, which the court voted 6-3, was a boon for gays and gay rights advocates. Colorado voters had passed an amendment that would have prohibited any sort of legislative, executive or judicial action of protecting gay people from discrimination. Kennedy was one of the six to strike down the use of such an amendment.

"A law declaring that, in general, it shall be more difficult for one group of citizens than for all others to seek aid from the government is itself a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense.... The disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected," he wrote.

Roper v. Simmons, 2005

Another 5-4 decision, this one involved Kennedy joining the court's more liberal justices. The majority claimed it unconstitutional for the death penalty to be applied to a person under the age of 18, with Kennedy noting in his decision that "only seven countries other than the United States ha[d] executed juvenile offenders since 1990: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and China."

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Supreme Court Justices John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg (from left) applaud the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, on February 24, 2009. Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday after spending 30 years atop the nation’s highest court. Getty Images/Alex Wong
Justice Anthony Kennedy Retires: A List of His Most Influential Decisions on Gay Rights, Gun Ownership and More | U.S.
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