WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court formally marked the retirement on Monday of Anthony Kennedy with an old-fashioned exchange of letters that the chief justice read aloud from the bench.
The justices, often bitterly divided on high-profile legal issues, were unanimous in their affection for Kennedy, who sat in the front row of the courtroom for the recitation of the missives.
The first letter was dated Dec. 3, and began with, "Dear Tony."
Chief Justice John Roberts noted that he and his colleagues are "keenly aware" of Kennedy's absence in their conferences and on the bench, but heartened that the retired justice has continued to have an "active presence" at the court.
Kennedy, like all retired justices, is entitled to maintain his judicial chambers at the Supreme Court.
The justices praised Kennedy for inspiring them with his "example of ceaseless civility."
The correspondence was signed by all nine justices and comes at a time when the high court is still recovering from the bitter Senate battle that led to the confirmation of the newest justice, Brett Kavanaugh. It follows an unusual public exchange last month between the chief justice and President Donald Trump, in which Roberts defended the independence of the judiciary in response to criticism from the president.
"We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Roberts had said in a statement. "What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them."
Kennedy stayed Monday for oral arguments in a case involving the taxation in West Virginia of retirement benefits for law enforcement officials. No longer in a black robe, Kennedy wore a dark suit, red tie and white pocket square.
Before arguments began, Roberts noted that the court will not be in session on Wednesday in observance of the national day of mourning for former President George H.W. Bush. He followed the reading of the court's letter to Kennedy with the retired justice's response, also dated Dec. 3.
"This reply is not to say farewell, for it is my hope to linger here to be with all of you in the days and years to come. It is necessary, of course, to say farewell to being on the bench and in the conference room."
In a nod to their divided decisions, Kennedy wrote: "Even if we disagreed in a particular case, we admired and respected each other as we sought to explain the law as we found it to be and to ensure that, over the course of time, the law and the freedoms it sustains will be even more secure, ever more revered."
He closed with, "Yours sincerely, Tony."