U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke about freedom and the rule of law Tuesday at the Judicial Leadership Summit in Henderson.
The event at the M Resort coincided with Law Day.
"It's very important for us to remember on Law Day: The verdict on freedom is still out in over half the world," Kennedy said.
The summit is held every four years and brings together judges from every court level to receive training and address issues that affect all state courts.
More than 100 Nevada judges attended the summit. Kennedy gave his luncheon address to about 500 judges and lawyers.
The event was not open to the public, and for security reasons, members of the news media were asked not to publicize Kennedy's appearance in advance.
Kennedy also prohibited photography and all electronic communication, including tweeting, during his speech.
The justice was invited to speak at the luncheon by Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, who was a student in Kennedy's constitutional law class at McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific.
Kennedy taught constitutional law at the school from 1965 to 1988. Hardesty said he met the "extremely popular professor," who became his friend and mentor, in 1971.
In introducing Kennedy to the crowd of judges and lawyers, Hardesty recalled how the man's lectures "so stirred the souls" of his students that "his classes often concluded with a standing ovation."
Kennedy, 75, received standing ovations both before and after his speech Tuesday.
The justice commented on the "dazzling facilities in Las Vegas" and said those who built them did so "so that Americans could come here to celebrate their freedom."
Kennedy made no mention of the recent controversy involving the 2010 General Services Administration conference at the M Resort, which cost taxpayers $823,000.
Instead, Kennedy focused on the three components of the legal profession: the academy, the bar and the bench.
He said the three parts are "closely intertwined" in America, but that is not the case in other parts of the world.
And only a few other countries make law school a graduate program, as it is in the United States, Kennedy said.
For judges, he had these words of advice: "Cautious decision making is not indecisiveness. It's fidelity to your oath."
Kennedy also said the United States will continue to have judicial elections.
"It is for the members of the bar to step up and show that elections will work," he said.
Kennedy said dedicated lawyers and civic leaders can rise to the defense of a good judge who comes under attack.
"The rule of law is on the line," he cautioned.
The justice also said members of the legal profession need to find ways of improving judicial elections.
"We are trustees of democracy," he said.
Earlier in the day, Kennedy visited the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Kennedy was the keynote speaker in September 2002 during a dedication ceremony for the law school's new facility on the university campus.
After being nominated by President Ronald Reagan, Kennedy took his seat on the Supreme Court in 1988. He has been the swing vote on many of the court's 5-4 decisions.
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