Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring from his seat on the Supreme Court, the court announced Wednesday afternoon. According to the release, the 81-year-old will officially step down July 31st.
“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy wrote in a statement. He cited a desire to spend more time with his family as his reason for leaving the bench.
— Kimberly Robinson (@KimberlyRobinsn) June 27, 2018
Kennedy, a Republican, is the longest-serving member of the Supreme Court, where he has served since 1988. His retirement will allow President Trump to install a conservative justice who could hold a seat for decades. Kennedy’s replacement will be the second justice nominated by Trump in less than two years in office, equalling the number of justices President Obama was able to appoint over eight years.
With the death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia in February of his final year in office, Obama might have had three appointments. But Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spent the better part of a year blocking the confirmation of Obama’s pick, Merrick Garland. Soon after Trump was inaugurated, he nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat. Gorsuch was sworn in last April.
In his letter to President Trump announcing his resignation, Kennedy expressed “profound gratitude” for the opportunity to help enforce the Constitution.
Here is his letter to the president, in full pic.twitter.com/m7DWYTxFGA
— Nina Totenberg (@NinaTotenberg) June 27, 2018
Kennedy’s retirement comes as the court has filed a host of controversial rulings. On Tuesday, the court ruled 5-4 to uphold President Trump’s controversial travel ban against predominantly Muslim nations. Also on Tuesday, the court ruled 5-4 that California is not able to require religiously affiliated anti-abortion pregnancy centers to give women information about abortion. On Wednesday, the court ruled 5-4 that government employees who elect to join unions are not required to help pay for collective bargaining. The ruling is expected to strip unions of much of the money they use to operate effectively. “I think that case in and of itself alone will have a seismic impact on the election,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) tells Rolling Stone. “Because it will show that you’ll have a unified approach by three branches of government – controlled by conservatives – that is decidedly, definitely anti-worker. I’m not sure we’ve seen that in recent American history.”
The vacant seat left by Kennedy will draw the court into even sharper focus as the November midterms near. “People should understand that this nominee will be there for decades to come – for our lifetimes and a good part of our children’s lifetimes, and the consequences for our nation couldn’t be higher,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) says.
Dick Durbin (D-IL) suggested to reporters at the Capitol that the confirmation should be delayed until after November. “We’re four months away from an election where the American people will decide the majority in the United States Senate – following the tortured logic of Mitch McConnell, let’s let the American people speak.”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) appeared to agree. “Given the stakes of the seat which will determine the fate of protected constitutional rights, the American people, who are set to vote in less than four months, deserve to have their voice heard,” she wrote in a statement. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) later joined the growing chorus of Democrats pushing for a delay.
4 months away from an election, there should be no consideration of a Supreme Court nominee until the American people have a say. Leader McConnell set that standard when he denied Judge Garland a hearing for nearly a year, and the Senate should follow the McConnell Standard now.
— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) June 27, 2018
This was also McConnell’s rationale for leading the effort to prevent the confirmation of Garland in the months leading up to the 2016 election. After Scalia died in February, he tweeted that “the American people should have a voice in their selection of the next Supreme Court Justice.” The Senate majority leader appears to feel differently now that a Republican president is in office. “We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall,” McConnell said after the retirement was announced, adding that “it’s imperative that the president’s nominee be treated fairly.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “The Senate stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role … to fill this vacancy. We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall.” pic.twitter.com/Cg8b7qzuKm
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) June 27, 2018
The White House also seemed to signal to Senate Democrats that they’d like the replacement’s confirmation to proceed obstruction-free. A statement released after Kennedy announced his retirement made sure to note that the departing justice was “swiftly confirmed without opposition” after being nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Following McConnell’s call for a quick confirmation, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took the stand to echo his fellow Democrats’ belief that a vote should not be held until after the midterms. “Our Republican colleagues in the Senate should follow the rule they set in 2016: not to consider a Supreme Court Justice in an election year. Senator McConnell would tell anyone who listened that the Senate had a right to advice and consent, and that was every bit as important at the president’s right to nominate.”
Schumer: “Our Republican colleagues in the Senate should follow the rule they set in 2016: Not to consider a Supreme Court justice in an election year.” (via ABC) pic.twitter.com/GC3JcxFUp7
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 27, 2018
President Trump seemed content as he addressed reporters following Kennedy’s retirement. “We will begin our search for a new justice of the United States Supreme Court immediately,” he said before going on to note that he will select Kennedy’s replacement from the same list of 25 potential nominees he consulted while choosing Gorsuch. The president did not make any comments suggesting he had considered the possibility that the left may make an effort to delay a vote, although he did say it was important to confirm a new justice as soon as possible. If Schumer does push for a delay, Trump’s Twitter followers can expect a steady stream of updates about the obstructionist, anti-American Democrats this fall.