Kennedy retirement rumors fueling liberal angst

Liberal anxiety is spiking again over renewed rumors of the possible retirement of Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy.  A Monday report by Joseph P. Williams says, "Kennedy reportedly dropped a low-key bombshell" last week, "hinting to prospective clerks that he's considering stepping down in 2018, ahead of the midterm elections."

The latest rumor, which "several experts poured cold water on," began with a Nina Totenberg column at suggesting that a Kennedy retirement may happen during President Trump's first term:

But it is unlikely that Kennedy will remain on the court for the full four years of the Trump presidency. While he long ago hired his law clerks for the coming term, he has not done so for the following term (beginning Oct. 2018), and has let applicants for those positions know he is considering retirement.

The current speculation follows reports in late June that fueled "the Beltway gossip mill" at the time:

Though Kennedy himself is mum, the stars seem aligned for an announcement.

Every five years Kennedy holds a reunion for his law clerks. The reunion planned for 2018 was moved up to this weekend.

Illustrating liberal fears of a Kennedy retirement – and of another conservative Trump nominee – is a weekend post by "nonagenarian" television personality Carl Reiner, who wrote, in so many words, "Dear Justice Anthony Kennedy," you have many productive years remaining; please don't retire.

While Reiner writes that Kennedy's "allegiance is to the Constitution" and "not to the party line," Reiner's motivations may be at least partly reflected in two of his recent tweets:

July 6: "According to news reporters,his [sic] supporters, his critics, The US Contitution [sic] & a Psychiatrist ,Trump is mentally unfiit [sic] to serve as President"

July 3: "Dump Trump Dump Trump facts scream, Dump Trump Dump Trump head lines stream, Dump Trump Dump Trump citizens scream. So let's Dump Trump!"

The reality for Democrats is defined by the column:  

Senate Democrats and liberal interest groups lack the political muscle to stop the president and Senate Republicans from reshaping the court – especially since Kennedy has served as a bulwark against total conservative control of the nation's government.

... The ramifications of a Gorsuch-like conservative textualist replacing a Kennedy swing vote would reverberate for a lifetime, potentially reversing the decisions on some of the biggest issues of our time[.]

The Williams piece at speculates that if Kennedy waits another year to retire, a possible loss of the GOP Senate majority "would throw the court's future into chaos."  

But another column, at, describes the bigger picture on the president's once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the federal judiciary in a more conservative direction.  Referring to last year's Republican Senate hold on Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, the column's authors, Paul Barrett and David Ingold, summarize the Republican strategy:

But this congressional pocket veto of Garland, a 64-year-old moderate and chief of the influential U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, was simply the most public manifestation of a longer-term strategy. After gaining control of the Senate in 2015, Republicans made it their mission to slow-walk Obama's nominations for the lower courts. This effort contributed to the relatively large backlog of 107 vacancies on trial and intermediate-appellate courts that Trump inherited.

... Trump's starting batch of 107 represents 12 percent of all 890 federal judicial positions.

Those vacancies, and the ones to come as more judges retire (the number has already jumped to 136 in the six months since inauguration) offer Trump the chance to sculpt the courts to his liking.

A series of graphics in the article gives a clear picture of the Republican-Democrat-vacancy balances on the various federal courts, illustrating the opportunity that President Trump has to realign not only the Supreme Court, but also the lower federal courts.

Trump began following through on that opportunity last month with the nomination of eleven candidates for federal judicial posts, including "three nominees for high-profile federal appeals courts."  One legal analyst, quoted at, had this to say on Trump's nominee slate:

Many of the nominees are well known in the conservative legal movement and have shown commitment to principled and evenhanded application of the law throughout their careers[.] ...

For the many Americans whose top concern in November was electing a president who would put committed constitutionalists to the courts, this is another major victory.

As notes, Trump "understood the importance of the judiciary to Republicans who were reluctant to support him."  (Why the never-Trump so-called conservatives still refused to support Mr. Trump is another story.)

The once-in-generation opportunity to realign the left-leaning federal judiciary is yet another reason why it is imperative for Republicans to get the job done on Obamacare so they have a chance of holding their majorities in 2018.

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