U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, an 81-year-old judge appointed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan, announced today that he plans to retire, thereby depriving the country’s highest court of a swing vote that often sided with liberal causes. This news of Justice Kennedy retiring means Donald Trump will get to fill the seat, guaranteeing the appointment of a conservative justice who will side with the predominantly conservative court for decades.
Justice Kennedy was responsible for writing the majority opinion in the Obergefell case that brought same-sex marriage to the entire country. He was a conservative leaning justice who nevertheless swung many of the court’s decisions to the left. Whomever Trump appoints will most assuredly not be a swing vote.
Upcoming cases will surely decide the future of American LGBTQ rights, voting rights, unions and other critical civil rights issues for decades, and with a staunch 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court going forward, things aren’t looking hopeful.
If this last month of decisions is any indication, liberal and progressive Americans can no longer depend on the court to protect their values. In a string of recent rulings that have largely broken along party lines, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of anti-abortion “pregnancy crisis” centers, gerrymandering based on race and against unions. The court has also ruled that anti-religious sentiment can prevent a state from enforcing its anti-discrimination laws, though it’s totally OK when a president creates a travel ban deliberately targeting Muslims.
In short, we’re fucked.
The next Supreme Court term starts October 2018, a month before the national mid-term elections, meaning that Trump and his congressional enablers will be able to install a new justice before Americans (and Russian operatives) decide on their Congressional representatives for the next two years.
Republicans will be able to approve whoever they like with a simple majority vote. So the only hope is that congressional Democrats will find some way to gum up the works before the midterms so that a potentially won Senate majority can prevent Trump from appointing anyone, just as the Republicans did with Obama in his final year.
At least for now the court will still retain its liberal justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, but looking at Trump’s shortlist of 25 possible replacements shouldn’t inspire much hope. They’re all judges from red states, most of whom have no federal court experience.