Justice Anthony Kennedy, left, speaks with Homer Moyer Jr., right, of Miller & Chevalier, at the International Bar Association conference Friday.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, left, speaks with Homer Moyer Jr., right, of Miller & Chevalier, at the International Bar Association conference Friday. (Photo: Katelyn Polantz/ALM)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy decried the current state of political discourse on Friday, telling an audience at the International Bar Association conference in Washington that the country’s divisions had reverberations around the globe.

“The verdict on freedom is out. Half of the world is looking at us,” he said. “They’re watching. They’re waiting. And what do they see? They see a civil discourse that’s hostile, fractious. Not based on neutral principle, tolerant discussion.

Kennedy said the problem went beyond the presidential election.

“That’s part of it. I’m talking about the way we discuss our civic affairs,” he said.

Kennedy’s comments come at a sensitive moment for the eight justices, whose words are routinely dissected for political bias. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg garnered widespread criticism after she mocked Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, this summer.

Kennedy, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, had long been considered the Sphinx-like swing vote on the Supreme Court before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the Friday keynote discussion, moderated by Miller & Chevalier member Homer Moyer Jr., Kennedy spoke broadly on topics including the rights bestowed by the Magna Carta, the meaning of freedom in organized society and a reading list he prepared for his grandchildren.

Among other historical writings, the justice recommended the lyrics of Don McLean’s song “American Pie,” Tom Cruise’s trial examination of Jack Nicholson in the film “A Few Good Men” and Lou Gehrig’s farewell to baseball.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy decried the current state of political discourse on Friday, telling an audience at the International Bar Association conference in Washington that the country’s divisions had reverberations around the globe.

“The verdict on freedom is out. Half of the world is looking at us,” he said. “They’re watching. They’re waiting. And what do they see? They see a civil discourse that’s hostile, fractious. Not based on neutral principle, tolerant discussion.

Kennedy said the problem went beyond the presidential election.

“That’s part of it. I’m talking about the way we discuss our civic affairs,” he said.

Kennedy’s comments come at a sensitive moment for the eight justices, whose words are routinely dissected for political bias. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg garnered widespread criticism after she mocked Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, this summer.

Kennedy, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, had long been considered the Sphinx-like swing vote on the Supreme Court before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia .

In the Friday keynote discussion, moderated by Miller & Chevalier member Homer Moyer Jr., Kennedy spoke broadly on topics including the rights bestowed by the Magna Carta, the meaning of freedom in organized society and a reading list he prepared for his grandchildren.

Among other historical writings, the justice recommended the lyrics of Don McLean’s song “American Pie,” Tom Cruise’s trial examination of Jack Nicholson in the film “A Few Good Men” and Lou Gehrig’s farewell to baseball.