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6 Quotes: Justice Anthony Kennedy on freedom of speech

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Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced yesterday that at the end of next month he will retire from the U.S. Supreme Court.

When he nominated Kennedy, President Ronald Reagan called the justice a “true conservative.” But over the years, Kennedy often served as a “swing vote” and sided with the court’s liberal faction in a vast number of substantial rulings. For this reason many conservatives (including me) are relieved to be able to replace him on the high court.

Yet there was one area of jurisprudence on which Kennedy was consistently praiseworthy: freedom of speech. A study conducted in 2013 showed that Kennedy was significantly more willing to find a First Amendment violation than the Court as a whole.

In honor of his retirement, here are are six quotes from Kennedy on free speech:

1. International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee: “The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.”

2. Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition: “First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought.”

3. Citizens United v. FEC: “Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people. he right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a precondition to enlightened self-government and a necessary means to protect it.”

4. United States v. Alvarez: The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society. The response to the unreasoned is the rational; to the uninformed, the enlightened; to the straight-out lie, the simple truth.

5. Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: “The Constitution ‘commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures.”

6. NIFLA v. Becerra: “Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties.”

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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