John F. Kennedy is widely remembered as a beloved leader who served as the 35th President of the United States of America. His decades-long legacy in American politics and history is one that will forever be cherished by those who remember his time in office and even those who didn’t get to experience it. However, with time comes changes and Kennedy’s legacy is being slowly erased, in part, by his former Supreme Court clerks.
At the time of Kennedy’s election in 1960, many political figures were wary of the original Supreme Court Justice positions being filled by persons who had clerked for the late president. After Kennedy’s assassination, two Supreme Court Justices, Byron White and Abe Fortas, were appointed to the Supreme Court as Kennedy’s former clerks. Unfortunately, both of them became embroiled in various political scandals and were eventually pressured to resign from their posts.
Their resignations effectively eliminated their presence on the Supreme Court, thus erasing the influence that the Kennedy administration had sought to introduce to the highest court in the land. The two justicies were replaced with justices whose views were very different from those of Kennedy and his clerks. This ultimately shifted the overall opinions and interpretations of many landmark and controversial cases decided by the Supreme Court.
Judicial historian Professor Tara Leigh Grove says that this shift in opinions was due to the judicial legacy of Kennedy being “swept aside and forgotten” in favor of more contemporary ideologies, philosophies, and opinions of society.
Furthermore, there has been growing concern amongst professors and academics about the lack of influence Kennedy’s clerks have within the legal system today. This is largely due to the fact that many of Kennedy’s former clerks are exiting the Supreme Court to pursue other career paths, instead of continuing to champion their predecessors causes. As a result, it has become a growing challenge for the current clerks to connect to Kennedy’s legacy and help students understand the impacts his term had on shaping the law.
While it is unfortunate to see the Kennedy legacy slowly eroding, there is still much to be done in order to preserve and promote his legal legacy. By empowering, educating, and mentoring the new generation of legal scholars on Kennedy’s philosophies, as well as encouraging civic involvement amongst individuals, Kennedy’s legacy can live on for many years to come.