Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy warned university students that democracy is endangered by the decline of free and open civic debate.
“We have a social framework of decency that we’re very quickly losing,” Kennedy said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which was on hand during the recent event at the UC Hastings College of Law. Without that framework, he explained, free societies cannot endure.
Elsewhere in his remarks, the justice bemoaned the “egocentrism that the cyber age has brought us.”
“Our young people in the cyber age don’t think the past is important,” Kennedy said. “If it’s not on your screen, it’s not important.”
The importance of civil, wide-ranging discourse was a major touchstone of Kennedy’s jurisprudence during his tenure on the Supreme Court. Even in closely-divided cases touching hot social controversies, the justice emphasized the respect due to all parties and extolled the virtue of free expression.
Perhaps the most significant of Kennedy’s opinions was the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, which established the constitutional right to same-sex marriage. There he repeatedly argued that the decision’s detractors had good faith objections to same-sex unions which should be aired in a respectful exchange of views.