Rumors of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s potential retirement have reignited after Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller addressed a closed-door meeting of a legal society in Las Vegas on Friday. The senator can be heard in an audio recording of the meeting obtained by Politico, saying: “I think Kennedy’s going to retire sometime early summer, giving (inaudible) an opportunity to put another Supreme Court justice in place.”
Longtime court watchers dismissed Heller’s comment, noting he does not serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and does not personally know the media-shy Kennedy.
Also suggesting that Kennedy has no imminent plans for retirement, he already has hired his clerks for the court’s next session. In addition, the high court is one of the few places in Washington where secrets really are kept.
“It’s really drilled into the new clerks as they start, that confidentiality is of the utmost importance,” said Kerry Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network.
Elizabeth Wydra of Constitutional Accountability Center adds: “As they always say, those who talk, don’t know ... and those who know, don’t talk. So, at this point it’s all just speculation.”
Heller may have ulterior motives in feeding the Kennedy retirement rumor. He’s in a tight primary race against perennial Nevada Republican candidate Danny Tarkanian, and believes primary voters need an inspiring issue like a Supreme Court vacancy to turn out at the polls June 12.
“It’s a great issue for the conservative base,” Wydra said. “They’re very fired up at the prospects of getting another Supreme Court justice, perhaps like Justice Neil Gorsuch.”
If there is a Supreme Court retirement, it may not necessarily be the 81-year-old Kennedy. Justice Stephen Breyer is 79 years old, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turns 85 on Friday.
“It’s very easy to imagine this president having multiple nominees on the Supreme Court, and that’s of course one of the most long-lasting impacts any president has,” Severino said.
As speculation builds about the Supreme Court, the Trump administration is moving quickly to fill 17 lifetime vacancies on the U.S. Courts of Appeal and another 121 District Court vacancies. It is in those courts where 99 percent of the nation’s federal-court decisions are made.