JOSHUA ROBERTS / Reuters
Kennedy will turn 81 in another month. A Ronald Reagan appointee, he has served on the Supreme Court for 29 years. Some friends say he has suggested he might retire. But he has given no outward sign of it and has hired his normal compliment of law clerks for the coming team.
A Kennedy retirement would
give Trump the ability to profoundly reshape the court. In many divisive cases, the court lineup tends to be four conservatives and four liberals, with Kennedy casting the fifth and deciding vote.
With Kennedy joining the conservatives, the court gutted the Voting Rights Act, reduced federal regulation of money in political campaigns, and declared that the Second Amendment provides an individual right to gun ownership.
Kennedy’s votes with the liberals produced rulings striking down state laws against same-sex marriage, upholding abortion rights, and limiting the use of the death penalty.
“A Kennedy retirement would be an epic change,” said Tom Goldstein, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and publisher of SCOTUSblog. “Kennedy is a conservative but has moderate tendencies. A replacement chosen by President Trump would give conservatives the solid majority on the court they’ve been hoping for since the Nixon administration.”
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is 84, and Stephen Breyer, 78, have shown no signs that they intend to step down.
Also Monday, the court will likely announce whether it will take or reject several appeals that have been piling up for months, including the right to carry a gun outside the home and whether businesses can refuse to provide their services for same-sex marriage ceremonies.