Donald Trump may never get his $25 billion border wall, or a “Space Force.” It’s a good bet that military parade he plans in Washington will start fading from memory in a day or two. A genuine peace deal with North Korea — who knows?
But a new vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court will give Trump what could be his best chance to leave an imprint on the nation and the rules of law that endures long after his presidency is over.
Justice Anthony Kennedy notified Trump Wednesday that he will retire on July 31, after his 82nd birthday.
Kennedy, who joined the court in the final year of President Ronald Reagan’s second term, has long been the court’s “swing vote” — siding with liberal justices often enough on such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage and affirmative action to deny conservatives a slam-dunk when cases rooted in ideology come before the justices.
Trump said he will nominate a new justice “as soon as possible, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he planned a vote in the fall, before the midterm elections.
It will be a task for which the president, often given to winging it and acting on impulse, comes prepared. Trump said he’ll work off the same list of names — recommended by leaders of conservative legal groups and vetted — from which he picked Neil Gorsuch last year.
Trump told a rally in Fargo, North Dakota, Wednesday night that he’d like to name a justice who can serve for 40 or 45 years.
Democrats vs. math
Senate Democrats have an argument to try to stall Trump’s next Supreme Court nomination.
If Republicans used the pretext of 2016 as an election year to kill President Barack Obama’s nomination for the seat that ultimately went to Gorsuch, why should Trump get to pick a justice just before midterm elections that could conceivably put the Senate in Democratic hands?
It’s the “height of hypocrisy,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and the voices of 2018 voters “deserve to be heard.”
Fat chance. Senate GOP leaders will proceed under no-filibuster rules. A handful of red state Democrats seeking re-election will face political pressure to go along with Trump. Even if they don’t, Republicans can prevail with their 51-49 majority so long as there are no defections.
No matter the odds, the party’s liberal base will demand that Democrats put up a fight. The GOP may welcome that as a way to energize its base by spotlighting social and cultural issues the future court could decide upon. The Democrats could do likewise, arguing abortion rights, health care and same-sex equality are in peril.
There are 25 names on that list — it’s been public a long time — but the current lineup for Trump’s “short list” isn’t certain.
Bloomberg News said Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, a former Kennedy law clerk, is a top contender.
Fun fact: Kavanaugh was a key member of Ken Starr’s independent counsel investigation of President Bill Clinton. That would be an interesting background to bring to the high court should it have to rule on tussles between Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller.
The Washington Post reports those “considered to be” the likeliest picks include Kavanaugh, Thomas Hardiman of the Third Circuit, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar of the Sixth Circuit and Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit. Hardiman was a finalist for the seat that went to Gorsuch. Fox News adds a sixth top-tier possibility: Joan Larsen, from the Sixth Circuit.
For more bios and photos of contenders, click here.
The court’s pulse
The prospect of Kennedy’s replacement by a younger, more conservative judge points up another disadvantage for the liberal wing — age.
The oldest justices are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, and Stephen Breyer, 79 — both chosen by Democrat Bill Clinton. The oldest GOP-picked justices are Clarence Thomas, 70, and Samuel Alito, 68. The youngest, Gorsuch, is 50.
So the actuarial odds are that if there are more vacancies while Trump is president, they are likelier to come from the liberal side.
Already tilted to the right
Despite Kennedy’s reputation as a sometime hero to liberals, he votes with the court’s right flanks more often.
He was with the 5-4 majority in Tuesday’s ruling on Trump’s travel ban and again for a historic decision Wednesday — stripping public-sector labor unions of the power to collect fees from nonmembers for representing them.
The decision reversed a precedent that was set by the Supreme Court in 1977 and has been fought by foes of unions ever since.
Trump celebrated the decision in a tweet, casting it as a partisan victory: “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”
Janison: Making of an upset
Was the shock Democratic primary defeat of Rep. Joe Crowley about Trump?
Trump tweeted that Crowley was a “Trump Hater” and “Perhaps he should have been nicer, and more respectful, to his President!”
Nope, that wasn’t it.
But frustration over Trump may have strengthened Democratic foes of the party establishment that lost to him and boosted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the victor in the Queens-Bronx district, a millennial whose politics are in the mold of Bernie Sanders, whom she worked for in 2016.
See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Divided they fail, again
Trump’s last-minute backing couldn’t save the House Republican leadership’s immigration bill. Nearly half of the party’s members — and all House Democrats — voted against it.
McConnell said that a narrow bill to end family separations and relax a 20-day limit for detaining children is the only thing that could possibly pass in the Senate, and senators are working on legislation.
Republicans face additional pressure after a judge in California late Tuesday ordered U.S. border authorities to reunite separated families within 30 days. If the children are younger than 5, they must be reunited with their families within 14 days of the order. See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.
What else is happening
- Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with Trump in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16.
- Trump took on the tone of an aggrieved parent in his tweet Wednesday about Harley-Davidson’s plan to shift some production overseas to avoid tariffs on exports: “I’ve done so much for you, and then this. ... We won’t forget, and neither will your customers or your now very HAPPY competitors.”
- Some Trump fans who are also Harley fans don’t want to take sides, The Washington Post reports from Milwaukee, the motorcycle maker’s hometown.
- Bill Shine, a former Fox News co-president, has accepted a role in the White House as deputy chief of staff for communications, ABC News reports. Shine was forced out of Fox amid questions over his handling of the network’s sexual-harassment scandals.
- Former top FBI official Peter Strzok told House members behind closed doors that political views he expressed in personal text messages never swayed decisions made in the FBI probes of Hillary Clinton or Trump. GOP members didn’t buy that.
- Trump praised Russia for doing a “fantastic job” hosting the World Cup.