Retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, right, takes a question from District Judge Edward J. Davila, left, during the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Anaheim, Calif., Thursday, July 26, 2018. Kennedy announced his retirement in June saying he wants to spend more time with his family. He has been in recent years the Supreme Court's decisive vote in contentious cases on issues such as gay rights and abortion. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Retiring Justice Kennedy sees European ties as vital

July 26, 2018 - 5:56 pm

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Thursday said he believes it is vital to maintain close ties with Europe and is concerned the U.S. appears to be drifting away.

Kennedy, who announced his retirement last month, made the remarks Thursday at a conference of judges and lawyers in Southern California.

"Europe is a place where I think we must always remain close to. It is of great concern to me that we seem to be drifting away from Europe," Kennedy told the audience at the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Anaheim, California, adding that "we can't be an island."

"Europe is part of our Western heritage, and we must remain very close to them."

His comments came shortly after President Donald Trump's tumultuous trip across Europe where he insulted allies and raised doubts about his commitment to the NATO alliance.

Kennedy, who was nominated by President Ronald Reagan, has in recent years been the Supreme Court's decisive vote in contentious cases on issues such as gay rights and abortion.

After he said he was retiring to spend more time with his family, Trump nominated District of Columbia federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh — who was once a clerk for Kennedy — to be his replacement.

Without Kennedy, the court will be split between four liberal justices who were appointed by Democratic presidents and four conservatives who were named by Republicans.

Kennedy has sided with liberal justices on gay and abortion rights. But he was a key vote for conservatives on the outcome of the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush, on gun rights and on limiting the regulation of campaign funds.

During his remarks in California, Kennedy, 82, also said he is interested in penal reform and believes that solitary confinement is wrong and that U.S. criminal sentences are too long.

"Our sentences in this country are eight times longer than sentences for the comparative crimes in England and Western Europe," he said.

Kennedy also shared stories about growing up in Sacramento, California, where he helped his father with his legal practice and spent summers working with his uncle in the oil fields.

He recalled traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with Reagan before he was asked to join the Supreme Court. At that moment, Kennedy told him he didn't want to move to the capital because he didn't really know anyone there and his children were back in California.

"He said, 'Oh, you know me,' " Kennedy recalled, and the audience erupted in laughter. "He had good instincts (...) we're very, very happy."

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