WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers and pundits are pushing the narrative that President Trump will get his second Supreme Court appointment in his first year in office, hinting that Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire in a matter of months.
“I would expect a resignation this summer,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said at a National Association of Manufacturers meeting last week. He didn’t mention Kennedy by name, but speculation over the justice’s future has reached a crescendo in Washington.
If Kennedy retires, it would be “the moment that Republican conservatives have been waiting for, for almost 50 years,” said Stephen Wermiel, an American University Washington College of Law professor and Supreme Court expert, saying that was the last time the court was in a position to secure a conservative majority on the court.
Despite all the broad hints being dropped, Kennedy has also given indications that he will remain on the bench beyond the end of this term in June — even hiring law clerks for the term that begins in October.
But scuttlebutt over Kennedy’s retirement began even before Trump took office, and has escalated recently. In an interview on C-SPAN, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt told a Herald reporter he expects “Justice Kennedy would retire this June and we have a five-member originalist court.”
At the annual Conservative Political Action conference in February, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said: “I think we’ll have another Supreme Court vacancy this summer.”
The last time two Supreme Court justices were appointed in one year was 1971, when President Richard Nixon’s nominees Lewis Powell Jr. and William Rehnquist were confirmed in the same month.
Replacing Kennedy, the so-called swing voter who has ruled to protect abortion rights and same-sex marriage, would give Trump a chance to appoint a conservative who could allow the court to reconsider those issues and others, including expanding Second Amendment gun rights and upholding Trump’s executive orders on immigration and climate actions.
Two former Kennedy law clerks told the Herald he has expressed a preference for retiring rather than serving the rest of his life, and he’s 81 this year. But neither confirmed the much speculated summertime timetable.
The White House has reportedly made overtures to Kennedy to reassure him his replacement would be in good hands with Trump, by choosing Neil Gorsuch — a former Kennedy clerk. The Kennedys and Trumps also have family ties: Kennedy’s son Justin is friendly with Donald Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump and her daughter Arabella attended oral arguments at the court in February as Justice Kennedy’s guests.
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