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High Court Visit at New Campus

April 15, 1998|JOHN CANALIS

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy cemented Whittier Law School's move to Orange County on Tuesday with what amounts to a regal visit in the legal world.

Kennedy taught two constitutional law courses and delivered the keynote address at the formal dedication of the new campus, which moved in August from Los Angeles to a former defense industry site on Harbor Boulevard.

"Lawyers very often deal in abstractions, in ideas, in intangibles, so it's always cause for celebration when we can focus on something that's tangible and real," Kennedy said of the 15-acre campus that is triple the size of the former location.

Students said they were moved by a speech that revealed what they expected: a great orator with an impeccable command of the law. And what they didn't: an easygoing guy unafraid to toss out a few legal jokes to put the audience of 800 at ease.

The majority of the address was directed at Whittier students, whom Kennedy encouraged to disregard complaints that there already are too many working lawyers.

"Law is as important as bridges and roads and engineering systems," he said.

Though appearances by Supreme Court justices are rare in Southern California, Whittier Law School Dean John A. FitzRandolph said Kennedy readily accepted the invitation to attend the formal dedication of the new campus. In the mid-1960s, FitzRandolph graded papers for then-professor Kennedy at McGeorge Law School in Sacramento.

"I asked him if he'd be here and he said 'Would you like me to teach a class?' " FitzRandolph said. "'And I gave it a nanosecond of thought and said 'Yes.' "

Students said they were most appreciative of the justice's instruction. After all, who better to teach constitutional law?

"By standing before us and taking the time out of his busy schedule to teach two classes, Justice Kennedy has raised the bar of student consciousness," said Alicia Perelmutter, president of the Student Bar Assn.

Kennedy was appointed to the court in 1987 and is perhaps best known for his vote upholding the right of protesters to burn the American flag. At the time, he wrote that "the flag protects those who hold it in contempt."

Kennedy reminded students Tuesday that a legal education provides students an enhanced way of thinking.

"The law is not just a set of commands," he said. "It's not just a list of prescriptive 'Shalt nots.' It also promises that if you study, you will enrich your own human potential. If you practice, you will serve your fellow citizens. If you teach it, you will preserve your freedom."

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