Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement. He will be leaving the High Court in July. The announcement was made yesterday in the public release of a letter he wrote to President Donald Trump.
“This letter is a respectful and formal notification of my decision, effective July 31 of this year, to end my regular active status as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, while continuing to serve in a senior status,” Kennedy wrote to the President.
“For a member of the legal profession it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court,” he added.
President Trump said Kennedy had visited the White House for thirty minutes prior to the announcement being made public. He and the President spoke for half an hour. During their meeting Kennedy informed the President of his decision and offered replacement recommendations.
Trump addressed Kennedy’s retirement while addressing reporters prior to a meeting with Portuguese President Rebelo de Sousa after the announcement.
“[Kennedy’s] been a great justice of the Supreme Court. He is a man who is displaying great vision. He’s displayed tremendous vision and tremendous heart. And he will be missed, but he will be retiring,” he said.
“He’s a very spectacular man. Really, a spectacular man. And I know that he will be around, hopefully for a long time, to advise. And I believe he’s going to be teaching and doing other things. So thank you to Justice Kennedy. Okay? Thank you.”
The President did not share the names of possible replacements with reporters but did mention he had a short list of about twenty-five names he had compiled during his election campaign of possible nominees should there be a vacancy on the Court.
The timing of the retirement should be a boon to Republicans, as it allows his replacement to become a key issue in the upcoming midterm elections.
Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016 but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider a replacement while President Barack Obama was still in office. He famously refused to meet with President Obama’s nominee at the time, Judge Merrick Garland.
President Trump’s election win in November 2016 allowed a conservative justice to be chosen to fill Scalia’s seat. The President nominated Neil Gorsuch who was confirmed in April of last year.
Democrats attempted to filibuster Gorsuch’s confirmation but Republicans invoked the so-called “nuclear option,” changing the number of votes required to confirm a Supreme Court justice from a filibuster-proof sixty to a simple majority of fifty-one.
Republicans currently control fifty-one seats in the Senate, a razor-thin margin that will undoubtedly be used as a rallying cry for both parties in the run-up to this year’s elections.
Kennedy was nominated to the Court in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan. Although nominated by a Republican, Kennedy became a reliably independent voice, providing swing votes on such landmark issues as marriage-equality, affirmative action and the campaign finance case known as Citizens United.
Court watchers believe that with another conservative confirmed to the Court, other landmark laws such as Roe v. Wade could be up for overturning as well.
The text of Justice Kennedy’s letter to the President appears below:
Supreme Court of the United States
Washington, D.C. 20543
JUSTICE ANTHONY M. KENNEDY
June 27, 2018
My dear Mr. President,
This letter is a respectful and formal notification of my decision, effective July 31 of this year, to end my regular active status as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, while continuing to serve in a senior status, as provided in 28 U.S.C. § 371(b).
For a member of the legal profession it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court. Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret, and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises.
Respectfully and sincerely,
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Photo by Steve Petteway via Flickr