With only one week remaining before the Supreme Court wraps up for the summer break, rumors about the possible retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy are running wild.
According to multiple reports, people close to Kennedy have said they believe the 80-year-old justice is considering stepping down soon. The Associated Press cited in a report on Saturday “several” former law clerks who said they think Kennedy might only have a year left.
Rumors of Kennedy’s possible departure have been floating around for more than a year, but they have grown much stronger in recent months after a reunion between Kennedy and his law clerks was rescheduled to occur this year. The reunion was originally scheduled for next year.
A former law clerk for Kennedy, George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, confirmed on Friday that rumors have been circulating about Kennedy’s retirement, writing on Twitter, “Soon we’ll know if rumors of Kennedy’s retirement are accurate …”
Some have said the rumors are unfounded, pointing to the fact Kennedy has already hired his law clerks for the fall term, but those believing a retirement could soon be in the works have said that Kennedy’s announcement could come soon, while the retirement might not happen until 2018.
In May, when rumors first started picking up about a possible retirement, multiple outlets reached out to Kennedy, who refused to comment.
The Washington Times asked Trump in May what he thought of the rumors.
“I don’t know,” Trump said. “I have a lot of respect for Justice Kennedy, but I just don’t know. I don’t like talking about it. I’ve heard the same rumors that a lot of people have heard. And I have a lot of respect for that gentleman, a lot.”
The departure of Kennedy, who has served on the Supreme Court for three decades, could potentially lead to one of the most important ideological shifts for the court in 50 years. The Supreme Court is currently divided in arguably four groups, but broadly speaking, eight of the justices fall into one of two camps: those who believe the Constitution is a “living and breathing” document that can be reinterpreted as times change and those who don’t.
Kennedy has been the court’s most important swing vote on numerous issues. If Kennedy is replaced by Trump with a constitutional originalist similar to Trump’s latest pick, Neil Gorsuch, it would push the nation’s most powerful institution firmly into the hands of those who reject liberals’ “living and breathing” view. Such a change could be disastrous for those who support abortion and the federal government’s ability to limit the power of the states.
In the Washington Times interview, Trump was asked whether a future Supreme Court pick would also come from the same list of highly conservative justices released by Trump during the campaign. (Gorsuch was a member of that list.)
“Yes,” Trump said. “That list was a big thing.”
On Sunday, as reported by The Hill, White House aide Kellyanne Conway refused to confirm or deny the Kennedy rumors, telling ABC News’ “This Week,” “I will never reveal a conversation between a sitting justice and the president or the White House, but we’re paying very close attention to these last bit of decisions.”
“Just as the president did with Justice Neil Gorsuch, whenever there are vacancies — whenever that happens — [Trump] will look for somebody who has fidelity to the Constitution, who doesn’t make up the law as they go along and somebody who has the judicial temperament and a record that’s beyond reproach, as did Justice Gorsuch,” Conway added during the interview.
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