The full set of implications of Donald Trump’s ascent to power is still taking shape, and there’s now a new one to worry about. Trump already got one Supreme Court seat to fill, having inherited it from his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump filled that seat with the ultra-conservative Neil Gorsuch.
Well, Trump may get a second Supreme Court seat to fill as early as next year. Rumors that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was considering retirement began to swirl recently, and now a report from NPR adds fuel to that fire.
Although he will be staying on the court for its present term, Kennedy might, according to NPR, retire next year. NPR backs this report up by stating that while Kennedy has hired law clerks for the court’s 2017 term, he has not hired any law clerks for the court’s next term. NPR adds that Kennedy hired his law clerks for the 2017 term “long ago.”
Instead of hiring clerks for the 2018 term, Kennedy is said to have told applicants for the positions that he is considering retiring from the Supreme Court next year. Justice Kennedy, from Sacramento, California, is 80 years old.
NPR offers up a few possible reasons for why Kennedy might put his retirement off by at least a year. These reasons include Kennedy having possibly been “put off by President Trump’s tweets about the judiciary” and him having “thought it best to ensure that there is a full complement of nine justices for at least a year.”
Kennedy’s fellow conservative-leaning justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate on April 7, 2017. (Notably, Gorsuch actually worked as a clerk for Kennedy at one point.)
Gorsuch’s confirmation came after Senate Republicans decided to refuse to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama’s nominee to fill the seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans claimed, completely erroneously, that Obama ought not to have been the one to fill Scalia’s old seat because he would — at the time that this controversy first exploded — have been out of office soon.
Justice Kennedy, although generally conservative, has often sided with his more left-leaning colleagues on important issues, including on the case that declared gay marriage legal in all 50 states. Kennedy is often seen as the swing vote on important cases, since he goes back and forth from siding with his conservative colleagues to siding with his liberal ones.
Should Kennedy retire, that would officially spell the beginning of the end for the Supreme Court as we know it. Trump’s first nominee to the bench, Gorsuch, has proven himself to be even more conservative than Scalia. Throughout his short time on the bench, Gorsuch has voted with ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas 100 percent of the time.
Trump will no doubt nominate someone to replace Kennedy who is of the same persuasions as Thomas and Gorsuch. Once that justice is confirmed, there will no longer be as much of an openness on the nation’s highest court as there is at present to acknowledge the legitimacy of “left-leaning” arguments. Corporatism and rabid nationalism will rule instead.
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