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SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: What’s in a naming?

WASHINGTON (AP) – Congress is the absolute best place to work if you want to get something named for you before you are dead and buried. Mitch McConnell Riverwalk and Plaza in Owensboro, Ky., and City College’s Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service in New York are but two of dozens of examples.

But the Supreme Court isn’t bad, either.

The names of four of the nine justices grace highway interchanges, public housing, prizes and libraries.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is the newest addition to this last category. He is in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., this week for the dedication of the Kennedy Library and Learning Center and the unveiling of a bust of the justice at the federal courthouse in the state capital.

Kennedy’s name also is on the Sacramento chapter of a professional association of lawyers, the Anthony M. Kennedy Inn of Court.

For sheer size, the Bronx public housing project where Justice Sonia Sotomayor grew up tops the list. The Sonia Sotomayor Houses, renamed in 2010 in the justice’s honor, encompass 28 seven-story buildings with 1,497 apartments and nearly 3,500 residents. Sotomayor described the project in her new memoir as sprawling over three large city blocks.

A childhood connection is important in the Savannah, Ga., area sites named for Justice Clarence Thomas.

The Clarence Thomas Center for Historic Preservation at the Savannah College of Art and Design is located at the former convent for the nuns who ran Thomas’ elementary school. The Thomas wing at the renovated Carnegie Library in Savannah is a nod to the era of segregation when blacks could not use the city’s public library and Thomas instead spent hours at the Carnegie Library. A few miles west of Savannah, the intersection of Interstates 16 and 95 also bears the justice’s name.

The most modest recognition of a sitting justice is Columbia Law School’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Prize, which goes to students who got excellent grades in all three years of law school. Ginsburg got her law degree from Columbia.


Ginsburg, the oldest justice, will celebrate her 80th birthday on March 15. She tells The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin that she plans to remain on the court at least another 18 months, which would take her through the end of the court’s next term in summer 2014. After that, she said, “Who knows?” It all depends on her health, she said.

Four years ago, Ginsburg had surgery for pancreatic cancer and underwent a course of chemotherapy. She has not missed any time on the bench and has traveled and spoken widely since then.

Her comments were roughly in line with her often-stated desire to serve as long as Louis Brandeis, the court’s first Jewish justice, who retired at the age of 82 after 22 years on the court. Ginsburg, who also is Jewish, would reach those milestones in 2015.

That year also might be the last one in which President Barack Obama can expect the Senate to confirm a high court nominee. 2016 is the year in which the nation will choose Obama’s successor. Filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year can be tricky business, with the party that does not hold the White House preferring to delay in the hope that a like-minded president will be elected.

Ginsburg, named to the court in 1993 by Democratic President Bill Clinton, acknowledged in The New Yorker interview that who sits in the Oval Office is a factor in the timing of justices’ retirements.


The court’s other birthday next week belongs to Justice Antonin Scalia, who turns 77 on March 11. He is the court’s longest-serving justice, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, in 1986. It’s a safe bet that Scalia will not choose to retire while Obama is president.

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