Jus­tice Kennedy re­tir­ing; Trump gets 2nd Supreme Court pick

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - Jus­tice Kennedy is re­tir­ing. By MARK SHER­MAN

WASH­ING­TON (AP) - Supreme Court Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy an­nounced his re­tire­ment Wed­nes­day, giv­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump a golden chance to ce­ment con­ser­va­tive con­trol of the na­tion’s high­est court.

The 81-year-old Kennedy said in a state­ment he was step­ping down af­ter more than 30 years. A Re­pub­li­can ap­pointee, he has held the key vote on such high-pro­file is­sues as abor­tion, af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, gay rights, guns, cam­paign fi­nance and vot­ing rights.

Kennedy in­formed his col­leagues of his plans, then went to the White House to meet with Trump, where the pres­i­dent said they talked for half an hour about a po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor and other top­ics. The re­tire­ment will take ef­fect at the end of July.

Trump praised Kennedy as a man of “tremen­dous vi­sion” and said his search for a new jus­tice would be­gin “im­me­di­ately.”

With­out Kennedy, the court will be split be­tween four lib­eral jus­tices who were ap­pointed by Demo­cratic pres­i­dents and four con­ser­va­tives who were named by Repub­li­cans. Trump’s nom­i­nee, likely to give the con­ser­va­tives a solid ma­jor­ity, will face a Senate con­fir­ma­tion process in which Repub­li­cans hold the slimmest ma­jor­ity but Democrats can’t pre­vent a vote.

The other two older jus­tices, Ruth Bader Gins­burg, 85, and Stephen Breyer, 79, are Demo­cratic ap­pointees who would not ap­pear to be go­ing any­where dur­ing a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion if they can help it.

Trump’s first high court nom­i­nee, Neil Gor­such, was con­firmed in April 2017. If past prac­tice is any in­di­ca­tion, the pres­i­dent will name a nom­i­nee within weeks, set­ting in mo­tion a process that could al­low con­fir­ma­tion by the time the court re­con­venes in early Oc­to­ber.

Trump al­ready has a list of 25 can­di­dates - 24 judges and Utah Sen. Mike Lee - and has said he would choose a nom­i­nee from that list.

Abor­tion is likely to be one of the flash points in the nom­i­na­tion fight. Kennedy has mainly sup­ported abor­tion rights in his time on the court, and Trump has made clear he would try to choose jus­tices who want to over­turn the land­mark Roe v.Wade de­ci­sion. Such a dra­matic rul­ing may not be im­me­di­ately likely, but a more con­ser­va­tive court might be more will­ing to sus­tain abor­tion re­stric­tions.

“If Don­ald Trump, who has promised to over­turn Roe v. Wade, picks some­one who is anti-choice, the fu­ture of Roe v. Wade is very much in ques­tion,” said David Cole, na­tional le­gal di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union.

In­ter­est groups across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum are ex­pected to mo­bi­lize to sup­port and fight the nom­i­na­tion be­cause it is so likely to push the court to the right.

Repub­li­cans cur­rently hold a bare 51-49 ma­jor­ity in the Senate, al­though that in­cludes the ail­ing Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona. If Democrats stand united in op­po­si­tion to Trump’s choice, Senate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky can lose no more than one vote. If the Senate di­vides 50-50, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence could break a tie to con­firm the nom­i­nee.

Prom­i­nent on the list of pos­si­ble suc­ces­sors are Judges Thomas Hardi­man of Penn­syl­va­nia and William Pryor of Alabama, who was se­ri­ously con­sid­ered for the seat even­tu­ally filled by Gor­such, and Judge Brett Ka­vanaugh, who serves on the fed­eral ap­peals court in Wash­ing­ton.

Ka­vanaugh is a long­time Wash­ing­ton in­sider, hav­ing served as a law clerk to Kennedy and then as a key mem­ber of in­de­pen­dent coun­sel Ken­neth Starr’s team that pro­duced the re­port that served as the ba­sis for Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment. In Oc­to­ber, Ka­vanaugh dis­sented when his court ruled that a teenage mi­grant in fed­eral cus­tody should be able to ob­tain an abor­tion im­me­di­ately.

Re­gard­less of who re­places him, Kennedy’s de­par­ture will be a ma­jor change for the high court, where he has been the cru­cial swing vote for more than a decade. He has sided with the lib­eral jus­tices on gay rights and abor­tion rights, as well as some cases in­volv­ing race, the death penalty and the rights of peo­ple de­tained with­out charges at the Guan­tanamo Bay naval base. He has writ­ten all the court’s ma­jor gay-rights de­ci­sions, in­clud­ing the 2015 rul­ing that de­clared same-sex mar­riage is a con­sti­tu­tional right na­tion­wide.


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