WASHINGTON — Anthony McLeod Kennedy was sworn in as the nation's 104th Supreme Court justice today, bringing a crucial tie-breaking vote to a court hampered by a vacancy for the last eight months.
With a hand on his family Bible, Kennedy promised during a brief ceremony to "do equal right to the poor and to the rich." He then was seated at the high court bench, at the place traditionally reserved for the junior justice.
President Reagan, who appointed Kennedy, did not attend the courtroom ceremony, but Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III presented Kennedy's commission of office to the justices.
In comments before the ceremony, Kennedy said he had a running start in his new job.
'I'm Ready for Monday'
"I've been working. I'm ready for Monday," when the court ends its current recess, Kennedy said while posing for cameras outside the court building.
"We're just delighted to be in Washington. The welcome has been very gracious," Kennedy, of Sacramento, Calif., said.
Surrounded by his wife, Mary, three children and more than 30 other relatives, Kennedy said he plans to live in an apartment in the nation's capital while he and his wife look for a permanent home.
Kennedy was Reagan's third choice to succeed Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who retired June 26. The 51-year-old conservative, a federal appeals court judge in California, was nominated Nov. 11, breezed through confirmation hearings in December and gained final Senate approval on a 97-0 vote Feb. 3.
Powell Was Swing Vote
Powell often cast the swing vote on a high court generally divided between conservatives and liberals. He often sided with the liberals to provide 5-4 victories against Reagan on issues such as abortion, school prayer and affirmative action.
Powell's retirement gave the President what may be his last chance to reshape the court in his own conservative image. But Reagan and conservative advisers, including Meese, dropped the ball.
Their first nominee, Robert H. Bork, then a 60-year-old judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, sparked months of acrimonious debate and was defeated in the Democratic-led Senate on a 58-42 vote Oct. 23. Opponents portrayed him as a right-wing ideologue who would help roll back decades of equal protection advances by minorities and women.
The President's second choice, Douglas Ginsburg, a 41-year-old conservative colleague of Bork on the Washington appeals bench, was nominated Oct. 29 but became an embarrassment and withdrew Nov. 7 after admitting he smoked marijuana as a law professor.
Only then did Reagan turn to Kennedy, considered less doctrinaire than the other two.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on which Kennedy has served is the largest and busiest in the country, covering nine Western states and Pacific territories. Until Reagan appointees began filling vacant positions, the court also had the reputation of being the most liberal in the nation.