Reproductive Rights

Justice Kennedy’s Retirement Leaves Court’s Future Uncertain

Justice Kennedy announced last Wednesday that he will be retiring from the United States Supreme Court. His retirement will allow President Trump to have a second Supreme Court appointment.

Justice Kennedy was nominated by President Reagan to the Supreme Court in late 1987 and unanimously confirmed the following February. Kennedy was not a consistently conservative Justice–he was the deciding swing vote on many important cases including Planned Parenthood v. Casey—which re-affirmed abortion rights–and Obergefell v. Hodges—which legalized same-sex marriage across the country.

However, despite his occasional swing votes, Kennedy was not a consistent moderate. According to 538, 56.9% of the time, Kennedy voted conservative. In close rulings, Kennedy voted conservatively 71.3% of the time. In fact, just this term he was the deciding vote in favor of upholding Trump’s Muslim Ban, gutting public sector unions, letting fake anti-abortion clinics lie to patients, and upholding a heavily gerrymandered congressional map in Texas.

But Kennedy’s retirement has worried liberals, as President Trump has promised that whoever he nominates will help to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would criminalize abortion in over half the states.

Trump intends to pick a nominee from a list of 25 potential-jurists who were handpicked by the Federalist Society, an organization that mentors young conservative lawyers and grooms the next generation of judicial leaders to be sympathetic to their values, from corporate interests to ending legal abortion. Feminists warn that any of the judges on the list would be devastating for women.

A massive progressive  movement has launched to demand that Senators don’t vote on any Supreme Court nominee until after the November elections, a standard that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell enforced in 2016 as he held up President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland.

That seat was eventually filled by now Justice Neil Gorsuch, whose nomination was forced through with only 55 votes after Senate Republicans abandoned 200 years of tradition and employed the “nuclear option,” changing the rule requiring a 60-vote threshold for cloture.

The 60 vote threshold was put in place to ensure bi-partisan cooperation when it came to confirming a lifetime appointment to the highest Court in the land. Observers of the Senate and the Court now feel that without a 60-vote threshold, the Court will become even more polarized and politicized.


Media Resources: Vox 06/27/2018, 538 07/03/2018, The Washington Post 07/02/2018, Vox 06/05/2018, Reuters 07/03/2018, Vox 07/05/2018, Politico 07/04/2018, The Washington Post 06/27/2018

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