Franz Jantzen, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
After three decades on the high court, Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired. President Donald Trump now has an opportunity to make the court more firmly conservative, which may have both social and economic impact.
Justice Kennedy, who turns 82 next month, authored opinions that changed the rules for federal civil litigation, corporation and union funding campaign advertisements, transformed the law of gender and same-sex relationships, and maintained abortion rights. A conservative and libertarian, Justice Kennedy was regarded as a swing vote who valued individual rights and freedoms, often putting him at odds with other Republican-appointed justices. He joined the court in 1988 as an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan, and his retirement takes effect on July 31 and gives President Trump a second Supreme Court appointment in his 17 months in office, having selected Neil Gorsuch last year.
The court could become more staunchly conservative than Kennedy with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts being the most centrist and decisive vote in certain cases. Justice Kennedy was instrumental in many liberal causes being supported in the court, but the attention may turn to economic and business views as President Trump advances aggressive economic changes and pushes economic tariffs. Just as the retirement was being announced, attention was also focused on the blow dealt to organized labour, with Scotus ruling that non-members cannot be forced in certain states to pay fees to unions representing public employees such as teachers and police, shutting off a key union revenue source. The 5-4 vote reflected the court’s conservative majority, overturning a 1977 Supreme Court precedent that had allowed the so-called agency fees that are collected from millions of non-union workers in lieu of union dues to fund non-political activities like collective bargaining. The ruling means that the estimated 5 million non-union workers who pay these fees will no longer have to do so.
President Trump said he would begin the selection process with a list of 25 conservative candidates. It is believed there are five front-runners on his list. They are Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the US Court of Appeals in Washington; Thomas Hardiman of the Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals; Raymond Kethledge of the Cincinnati-based 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals; Amul Thapar, who President Trump named to the 6th Circuit; and Amy Coney Barrett, who President Trump named to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.