In a story that was ostensibly about new Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch's voting record, NPR legal affairs reporter Nina Totenberg dropped this tantalizing piece of news about Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's potential retirement:
"Kennedy may also have thought it best to ensure that there is a full complement of nine justices for at least a year. He could even have been put off by President Trump's tweets about the judiciary.
But it is unlikely that Kennedy will remain on the court for the full four years of the Trump presidency. While he long ago hired his law clerks for the coming term, he has not done so for the following term (beginning Oct. 2018), and has let applicants for those positions know he is considering retirement."
That's called burying the lead. And it's a piece of news that, especially after a tough first six months of the Trump administration, Republicans will be very, very happy to see.
It's not terribly surprising that Kennedy would consider retirement — indeed, there was some thought he could even have announced it last week, when the court's term ended — but this looks like a pretty good indicator that it will come at some point in President Trump's first term. If Kennedy is considering retiring in 2018, is he really going to stick it out until 2021, when he will be 84 years old? That seems even more unlikely now than it did before.
The upshot? It would mean that Democrats wouldn't have a chance to unseat Trump before the next big Supreme Court vacancy comes along. And not only that, but it would seem they may not even have a chance to stop it the other way: with a Senate majority...
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