Gay mentor, belief in dignity at the core of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s views

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Irish Catholic boy who came of age in Sacramento, Calif., after World War II is an unlikely candidate to be the author of the U.S. Supreme Court’s major gay rights rulings.

But those who have known Justice Anthony Kennedy for decades and scholars who have studied his work say he has long stressed the importance of valuing people as individuals. And he seems likely also to have been influenced in this regard by a pillar of the Sacramento legal community, a closeted gay man who hired Kennedy as a law school instructor and testified on his behalf at his high court confirmation hearings in Washington.

With three major gay rights opinions to his name already, the 78-year-old Kennedy is the prohibitive favorite to write the Supreme Court decision in June that could extend same-sex marriage nationwide.

Kennedy’s friendship with Gordon Schaber began in the mid-1960s when Schaber recruited the young lawyer to teach at the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. Schaber, who served as the school’s dean for 34 years, was in the process of transforming McGeorge from an unaccredited night school to a respected institution that now is a part of the University of the Pacific.

Schaber never married and was widely believed to be gay, according to accounts from a dozen people who worked for him or were active in Sacramento’s political and legal communities.

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“Schaber’s sexual orientation was general knowledge among the Sacramento community and the law school community,” said Glendalee “Glee” Scully, the longtime director of McGeorge’s legal clinic, where students got practical experience by taking on cases for people who couldn’t otherwise afford a lawyer.

Among those who worked at the school when Schaber was dean, not one could recall Schaber discussing his sexual orientation. “Generationally, it was not something gentlemen spoke about,” said McGeorge professor Larry Levine, himself openly gay.

Scully said, “As close as he and Tony Kennedy were as friends, I would doubt they ever had a conversation about it. But how can’t it have helped to some degree Tony’s willingness to have an open mind?”

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