The future of the highest court in the land may take an even grimmer shift to the right.
When 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court last week, it sparked a wave of concern. Given the current climate, whoever is pipped to replace him carries a heavy judicial weight on their shoulders and could easily take a sharp and direct turn to the right because Kennedy is allowing President Donald Trump to chose who his ideal candidate should be.
A Reagan appointee, Kennedy has by no means been a liberal light in the Supreme Court—as this breakdown on his voting patterns by Vox points out—at times he’s been a happy medium. But with his presence gone, whoever will replace him has the power to sour the judicial tone and turn the next year into an onslaught of overrulings and U-turns designed to wind back the clock of progress.
In the past, Trump has said he’ll use the landmark Roe v Wade case—the historic decision legalizing abortion in the US–when appointing anyone to the Supreme Court but has since toned down his approach. In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Trump said he’s “unlikely” to ask nominees about the position on Roe v Wade, but that abortion rights “could very well end up” being determined on a state-by-state basis.
On the very same night, Maine GOP Susan Collins went on the record to say said she won’t support a nominee who has demonstrated “hostility” to Roe v. Wade,
As only one of two Republican senators who supports abortion rights, when asked how she intends to protect a riling that 7/10 women want to preserve, Collins said whoever the candidate turns out to be, they have to respect legal precedence. On CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Collins was adamant she wasn’t going to play a part in letting established laws fall by the wayside.
“Overturning a ruling that has been law for 45 years and is a constitutional right and has been reaffirmed by the court 26 years ago? Indeed, Justice Roberts has made very clear that he considers Roe v Wade to be settled law. I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v Wade because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy would not include respect for established decisions and established law.”
There’s a strong chance the legacy of next member of the Supreme Court won’t be about moving forward, it’ll be about protecting the status quo. At the moment Republicans hold the majority in the Supreme Court but it’s not an overwhelming one. As the only Republican who crossed party lines, Kennedy’s vote was often the last hurdle in getting contentious debates ascribed into the law of the land. He kept Roe v. Wade. and in 2015, he cleared the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The New Yorker tried to unpack what a brazen conservative might do in Kennedy’s position, and the prognosis was grim. “It will overrule Roe v. Wade, allowing states to ban abortions and to criminally prosecute any physicians and nurses who perform them. It will allow shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and hotel owners to refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds. It will guarantee that fewer African-American and Latino students attend élite universities. It will approve laws designed to hinder voting rights. It will sanction execution by grotesque means. It will invoke the Second Amendment to prohibit states from engaging in gun control, including the regulation of machine guns and bump stocks.”
President Donald Trump’s nominee will be announced from a pre-existing shortlist of 25 candidates on July 9.