POLITICS
06/24/2017 10:42 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2017

Retirement Rumors Ramp Up For Influential Supreme Court Justice

Justice Anthony Kennedy, 80, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and has served for nearly three decades.
President Donald Trump listens as Justice Anthony Kennedy speaks during the swearing in ceremony for Judge Neil Gorsuch.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
President Donald Trump listens as Justice Anthony Kennedy speaks during the swearing in ceremony for Judge Neil Gorsuch.

As the end of the Supreme Court term approaches, rumors of retirement have ramped up around Justice Anthony Kennedy, a pivotal judge who often bridges a gap on the bench between conservatives and liberals.

The Associated Press and CNN reported Saturday on rumors swirling around the 80-year-old Kennedy’s retirement after the Supreme Court’s final week before the bench breaks for summer.

Sources close to Kennedy told CNN that the justice has been “seriously considering” retirement after nearly 30 years of service, though it’s not clear when exactly Kennedy would hang up his robe. Both conservatives and liberals have been gearing up to fill Kennedy’s spot when he retires, CNN reported in May.

This new round of speculation was sparked by a private reunion of Kennedy’s former clerks in Washington, D.C, according to the reports. The reunion date was moved up one year, AP reported, sparking talk among former clerks that it would be the last time they see Kennedy while he is on the bench.

Orin Kerr, law professor at George Washington University and a former clerk of the senior justice, tweeted on Friday that they would likely know soon “if rumors of Kennedy’s retirement are accurate, which makes this post on time limits timely again.”

Kennedy, a conservative Republican, has become a breadwinner for the left by siding with liberal justices in pivotal Supreme Court decisions. 

Appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, Kennedy has cast swing votes for groundbreaking issues including the legalization of same-sex marriage ― for which he wrote the majority opinion ― protecting abortion rights and race-based affirmative action.

Kennedy’s retirement would create an opportunity for President Donald Trump to push the Supreme Court and its future rulings in favor of conservatives. Trump’s first pick for the court, Justice Neil Gorusch, was a clerk under Kennedy and this year filled the spot of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. 

“As the court’s most important Justice ― at the center of the institution’s ideological balance ― Justice Kennedy’s ability to bridge the divide between left and right on critical issues such as the right to access abortion cannot be overstated,” Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, told CNN.

“Replacing Justice Kennedy with a Trump nominee would almost certainly sound the death knell for Roe, just as candidate Trump promised during the 2016 campaign.”

In April, Trump told the Washington Times that he would be using the same list of 21 potential Supreme Court nominees he released while campaigning for presidency if any vacancies opened up on the bench.

When asked of Kennedy’s potential retirement by the newspaper, Trump said he didn’t want to talk about it.

“I don’t know. I have a lot of respect for Justice Kennedy, but I just don’t know,” he said. “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.”

UPDATE: June 25 ― Politico reporter Eliana Johnson tweeted Sunday that there was no announcement of a pending Kennedy retirement at the clerk reunion.

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