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Political positions of Ted Kennedy

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Title: Political positions of Ted Kennedy  
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Collection: Political Positions of United States Senators, Ted Kennedy
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Political positions of Ted Kennedy

U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), took positions on many political issues throughout his career via his public comments and senatorial voting record. This is a summary of some of them.


  • Abortion 1
  • Affirmative action 2
  • Immigration policy 3
  • Gun control 4
  • Energy policy 5
  • War on Terrorism 6
    • War in Afghanistan 6.1
    • Iraq War 6.2
  • Israel and Middle East policy 7
  • Education 8
  • Northern Ireland 9
  • Judicial appointments 10
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues 11
  • Wage and price controls 12
  • Environmental record 13
  • Health care 14
  • 18 year old right to vote 15
  • References 16
  • Notes 17


Although he was a staunch pro-choice advocate for the past 30 years, Kennedy adopted this position only after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Prior to that, he held a pro-life position. A letter to a constituent, dated August 3, 1971, opposes "the legalization of abortion on demand" saying, "While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old. When history looks back at this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."[1] Kennedy's reversal on this issue after Roe v. Wade became a source of continuing dispute between him and the Catholic Church, of which he was a member.

In 1987, Kennedy delivered an impassioned speech condemning Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork as a "right-wing extremist" and warning that "Robert Bork's America" would be one marked by back alley abortions and other backward practices. Kennedy's strong opposition to Bork's nomination was important to the Senate's rejection of Bork's candidacy. In recent years, he has argued that much of the debate over abortion is a false dichotomy. Speaking at the National Press Club in 2005, he remarked, "Surely, we can all agree that abortion should be rare, and that we should do all we can to help women avoid the need to face that decision."[2] He voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.[3]

Affirmative action

Kennedy supported affirmative action. In 1996 he called Patrick Chavis a "perfect example" of how affirmative action worked.[4][5][6][7]

Immigration policy

Kennedy introduced[8] and was a strong supporter of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act – signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson – which dramatically changed U.S. immigration policy.[9] "The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause American workers to lose their jobs."[10]

Kennedy asserted that the bill would end the favoring of Europeans for immigration into the United States.[8] The 1965 legislation replaced the Immigration Act of 1924, which favored immigrants from northern and western Europe and Canada.[8] Proponents of the 1965 bill argued that immigration laws and quotas were discriminatory, and that American immigration policy should accept people not on the basis of their nationality. This also abolished the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Kennedy's bill was designed to reallocate visas to poorer countries and also added the stipulation that extended families of visa holders would also be eligible for visas.[8] Although Kennedy promised the bill would not increase the number of immigrants into the United States or change the ethnic composition of the United States, immigration numbers doubled from 1965 to 1970 and then doubled again before 1990.[8]

Kennedy was the chairman of the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship, and remained a strong advocate for immigrants. Kennedy subsequently took a lead role in several other would-be immigration measures, including the [11]

Gun control

Kennedy was a staunch supporter of gun control initiatives. In 2006, he was one of the 16 senators who voted against the Vitter Amendment prohibiting the confiscation of legally possessed firearms during a disaster.

Energy policy

Kennedy generally favored alternative energy sources and opposed additional Alaska oil drilling. However, he opposed the Cape Wind wind turbine project which would occur near his home.[12][13]

War on Terrorism

Kennedy joined other Democratic leaders in the Senate to write letters to Majority Leader Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Among authors of other letters to Reid on this subject were Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joseph Biden, Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer.[14]

War in Afghanistan

Kennedy was a supporter of the War in Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in reaction to the September 11 attacks.

Iraq War

Kennedy opposed the American-led President Bush the authority to use force against Iraq.[15]

There is clearly a threat from Iraq. And there is clearly a danger. But the administration has not made a convincing case that we face such an imminent threat to our national security that a unilateral pre-emptive American strike and an immediate war are necessary. Nor has the administration laid out the cost in blood and treasure of this operation. . . .With all the talk of war, the administration has not explicitly acknowledged, let alone explained to the American people, the immense postwar commitment that will be required to create a stable Iraq.
—Ted Kennedy, Senate Debate on use of force in Iraq, 2002.

As the Iraqi insurgency grew in subsequent years, Kennedy pronounced that the conflict was "Bush's Vietnam."[16] In response to losses of Massachusetts service personnel to roadside bombs, Kennedy became vocal on the issue of Humvee vulnerability, and co-sponsored enacted 2005 legislation that sped up production and Army procurement of up-armored Humvees.[16]

In early 2007, preceding Bush's announcement that he would initiate a troop surge in Iraq, Kennedy made a speech at the National Press Club opposing it.[17] Kennedy was the first Senator in the 110th Congress to propose legislation opposing the troop surge.

Israel and Middle East policy

Ted Kennedy was a staunch supporter of Israel while in the Senate,[18] and was mourned by Israeli leaders such as Shimon Peres and Avigdor Lieberman as a "friend to Israel" when he died.[19] According to one tally, Ted Kennedy voted 100 percent in concert with positions taken by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.[20] During the run up to the Iraq War, Kennedy said '“Iran has had closer ties to terrorism than Iraq...Iran has a nuclear weapons development program, and it already has a missile that can reach Israel.”[21]

Ted Kennedy's death gained massive public attention in Israeli settlement issue. He also opposed dividing Jerusalem up in a peace deal.[22]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Kennedy, "a great friend of Israel", and he continued by saying that Kennedy would be missed. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who was a prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union, told The Jerusalem Post, "When we were in prison - when I was in prison - Senator Kennedy was one of the most important contacts for our wives and families. He helped bring down the iron curtain and he helped Soviet Jews immigrate to Israel."[22]

"Kennedy was clearly a friend of Israel all the way, and in every place that he could help us he did," said Israeli President Shimon Peres. His death was "a very big loss to every sensitive and thinking person the world over. May his soul rest in peace."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a condolence for the loss of Ted Kennedy, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, talked about how Ted Kennedy would be missed and how great of a friend he was for Israel.[23]

"Our alliance with Israel is an alliance based on common democratic ideals and mutual benefit. In the critical region of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, Israel is a rock of strength, stability, and friendship,... We must never barter the freedom and future of Israel for a barrel of oil - or foolishly try to align the Arab world with us, no matter what cost."
-Ted Kennedy's speech in 1980[22]


Kennedy became notorious in the 1970s for his support of desegregation busing. He was one of that members of Congress, government, and judges and journalists who supported busing but sent their own children to private schools.[24]

Speaking at the dedication ceremonies of the Connell School of Nursing, Boston College.

Kennedy was a leading member of the bipartisan team that wrote the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. According to both Kennedy and President Bush, the Act was a compromise. Kennedy then worked on its passage through a Republican-controlled Congress, despite opposition from members of both parties.

Kennedy opposed federal attempts to cut student financial aid, such as Reagan's 1986 planned limitations on Guaranteed Student Loans to students whose families earned over $32,500 a year, and a planned $4,000 cap on all federal aid and benefits that a student could receive in one year. Following the Republican takeover of Congress in November 1994, there was a renewed effort on the part of key Republican leaders to balance the federal budget by cutting financial aid. The new cuts, which Kennedy also opposed, involved reducing the interest the federal government would pay on student loans, and on Clinton’s direct lending program. Kennedy supported the College Affordability and Access Act of 2007 which provides $20 billion in new federal financial aid investments for low- and middle-income students and their families.[25]

Northern Ireland

Kennedy was outspoken in his views about Northern Ireland's constitutional question. In October 1971, he called for the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland, and for all political participants there to begin talks on creating a United Ireland.[26][27]

In early 2005, however, Kennedy publicly snubbed Gerry Adams by canceling a previously arranged meeting, citing the Provisional Irish Republican Army's "ongoing criminal activity and contempt for the rule of law." This decision was a direct result of the Northern Bank robbery in December 2004 and the murder of Robert McCartney the following month.[28]

Judicial appointments

A longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee (and its chairman from 1979 to 1981), Kennedy was an important Democratic voice during debates and confirmation votes on United States Supreme Court nominees. He and Daniel Inouye, also elected in 1962, have voted on more appointments than every other Senator except Robert Byrd.

Kennedy supported nominations of David Souter and Clarence Thomas,[31][32][33] as well, but supported Bill Clinton's nominations of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.[34][35]

He strongly opposed the successful nominations of both Chief Justice George W. Bush.

From 2001 to 2003, Kennedy led a forty-five member all Democrat Senate filibuster to block the appointment of former assistant Solicitor General Miguel Estrada to the United States court of appeals. When Estrada withdrew his nomination, Kennedy proclaimed it was a "a victory for the Constitution."[38]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues

Kennedy was considered to be one of the biggest advocates of LGBT rights in the U.S. Senate,[39][40][41] and he has received ratings of 100 percent by the Human Rights Campaign for the 107th, 108th and 109th sessions of U.S. Congress[42] indicating that he voted in support of issues the HRC considers important with regards to equality for LGBT persons. He was a supporter of same-sex marriage[43] and was one of the fourteen senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.[44] He also voted against the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006.[37][45] Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004.

Wage and price controls

Kennedy was a longtime advocate of raising the minimum wage. He helped pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which incrementally raises the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over a two-year period. The bill also included some controversial tax cuts for small businesses and higher taxes for many $1 million-plus executives. Kennedy was quoted as saying, "Passing this wage hike represents a small, but necessary step to help lift America's working poor out of the ditches of poverty and onto the road toward economic prosperity".[46]

In the 1970s, Kennedy joined with fellow senators Ernest Hollings and Henry M. Jackson in a press conference to oppose President Gerald Ford's request that Congress end Richard Nixon's price controls on domestic oil, which had helped to cause the gasoline lines during the 1973 Oil Crisis.[47] Kennedy said he believed ending the price controls (which have been blamed for increasing America's dependence on foreign oil and were ended in 1981) would produce "no additional oil."[47]

Environmental record

Kennedy had a strong pro-environment voting record.[48] He voted in favor of disallowing an oil leasing program in Alaska's ANWR, removing oil and gas exploration subsidies, including oil and gas smokestacks in mercury regulations and reducing funds to road building in forest. He voted against reducing funding to renewable and solar energy projects, requiring ethanol in gasoline, Bush administration energy policy and approving a nuclear waste repository.[49] Kennedy was a critic of the Bush administration’s environmental record and has stated "We must not let the administration distort science and rewrite and manipulate scientific reports in other areas. We must not let it turn the Environmental Protection Agency into the Environmental Pollution Agency".[50]

Kennedy opposed the proposed Cape Wind project, which would be the country's first off-shore wind farm. Kennedy owns a home 4.7 miles from the proposed wind farm, and referred to the project's builder as a "special interest developer." [51]

Health care

Kennedy believed that health care coverage was a fundamental right for all individuals and fought for universal health care in the United States until his death.[52] In 2010, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Health Care for America Act to provide near universal health care coverage in the United States by 2014. Kennedy's widow, Vicki attended the signing ceremony for the bill.

18 year old right to vote

Senator Kennedy was a long proponent of the 18 year old's right to vote. He demonstrated his support in his testimony in front of the Subcommittee for Lowering the Voting Age to 18. During his testimony he stated: "Long ago, according to historians, the age of maturity was fixed at 21, because that was the age at which a young man was thought to be capable of bearing armor. Strange as it may seem, the weight of armor in the 11th century governs the right to vote of Americans in the 20th century."[53] Senator Kennedy continued to support this initiative until it was realized with the signing of the Twenty-sixth Amendment on July 5, 1971.


  1. ^ A Tale of Two Teddies: Pro-choice Kennedy was pro-life in 1971, World NetDaily, August 3, 2005. Accessed online December 26, 2006.
  2. ^ Dionne, E.J. "The New Liberalism: Democrats Need to Show Their Family Values", Washington Post, January 14, 2005, page A19.
  3. ^ "Ted Kennedy on the Issues". Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  4. ^ Patrick Chavis, 50, Affirmative Action Figure, Is Dead
  6. ^ Affirmative Action Hero: The Life and Death of Patrick Chavis
  7. ^ [Los Angeles Times]: Doctor in Landmark Anti-Bias Case Slain
  8. ^ a b c d e  
  9. ^ Three Decades of Mass Immigration: The Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act, Center for Immigration Studies, September 1995. Accessed online December 26, 2006.
  10. ^ U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Committee on the Judiciary, Washington, D.C., February 10, 1965, pp. 1–3.
  11. ^ "Fighting for Real Immigration Reform". Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  12. ^ Ted Kennedy on Energy & Oil, On the Issues ( Accessed online December 26, 2006.
  13. ^ Bending with the Wind
  14. ^ Thomas, Will. '08 Dems Pressure Reid Over Wiretap Law., Dec. 12, 2007. Accessed 6-14-2008.
  15. ^ Kennedy fights 'immense new mistake' of troop surge -
  16. ^ a b Aucoin, Don (February 22, 2009). "Chapter 7: The Patriarch: Their sorrows, his cause".  
  17. ^ Sen. Ted Kennedy at the National Press Club,, January 9, 2007. Accessed online February 22, 2007.
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c Solomont, E.B. (August 26, 2009). "'"Sen. Edward Kennedy - 'A great friend of Israel.  
  23. ^ "Peres: Kennedy death a loss to entire world".  
  24. ^  
  25. ^ Senator Kennedy and Student Aid at NU: An Online Exhibit, Northeastern University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections, May 2008.
  26. ^ "Northern Ireland Conflict / British Reaction".  
  27. ^ "A Chronology of the Conflict - 1971".  
  28. ^ Kelly, Garry (2005-03-14). "Senator Kennedy snubs Adams as US recoils at IRA crime". London:  
  29. ^ Court nominees will trigger rapid response |
  30. ^ "A Sober Look At Ted Kennedy". Archived from the original on 2008-02-08. Retrieved 2008-05-20. 
  31. ^ a b Our Campaigns - Candidate - Edward "Ted" Kennedy
  32. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 101st Congress - 2nd Session". U.S. Senate. 
  33. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 102nd Congress - 1st Session". U.S. Senate. 
  34. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 103rd Congress - 1st Session". U.S. Senate. 
  35. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 103rd Congress - 2nd Session". U.S. Senate. 
  36. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 109th Congress - 1st Session". U.S. Senate. 
  37. ^ a b "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 109th Congress - 2nd Session". U.S. Senate. 
  38. ^ "Estrada withdraws as judicial nominee". September 4, 2003. September 4, 2003. Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  39. ^ No 'heir apparent' to Kennedy on gay issues in Congress - Southern Voice Atlanta
  40. ^  
  41. ^ "A tribute to Ted Kennedy's decades of work on gay rights". Daily Kos. May 20, 2008. 
  42. ^ "Measuring Support for Equality in the 109th Congress" (PDF). Congressional Scorecard. Human Rights Campaign. 
  43. ^ "Kennedy On California Supreme Court Decision" (Press release). Senator Ted Kennedy. May 15, 2008. 
  44. ^ "U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 104th Congress - 2nd Session". U.S. Senate. 
  45. ^ "Federal Marriage Amendment Member Vote List". Project Vote Smart. 
  46. ^ Senate votes to raise minimum wage, Chicago Tribune, February 1, 2007. Accessed online February 22, 2007.
  47. ^ a b  
  48. ^ League of Conservation Voters.
  49. ^ On the issues:Environment
  50. ^ Washington Post, January 12, 2005.
  51. ^ Obama faces tough choice on Cape Cod wind farm, Associated Press, January 26, 2009
  52. ^ "Democratic National Committee Approves Platform With Health Care Language; Obama Campaigns In Iowa". Retrieved 2008-11-08. 
  53. ^ Committee on the Judiciary, Lowering the Voting Age to 18, 91d Cong., 2nd ses., 1970, 157.


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