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Supreme Court Swing Vote Anthony Kennedy Announces He’s Retiring

In a statement today, Anthony Kennedy said he’s stepping down ‘to spend more time with’ his family, even though ‘his family was willing for him to continue to serve.’


U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key swing vote between the liberal and conservative wings of the bench since 2006, has announced he’ll retire effective July 31.

In a statement today, Kennedy said he’s stepping down “to spend more time with” his family, even though “his family was willing for him to continue to serve.”

President Ronald Reagan nominated Kennedy in 1987 after Democrats under then-Senate Judiciary Chair Joe Biden set a new precedent for brutalizing Supreme Court nominees to vote down Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork for the same spot. Kennedy took his post in 1988. The same smear tactics also nearly took down President George H.W. Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas.

As Democrats had desired when torpedoing Bork’s nomination, Kennedy prevented the Supreme Court from swinging back towards a consistently faithful interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Kennedy has turned many Supreme Court cases decided by one vote, including a 1992 case retrenching Roe v. Wade, 2015’s nationalization of gay marriage, a 2008 decision reaffirming the individual right to own guns, a 2010 decision allowing people to speak freely on politics when they organize themselves into groups, and a 2005 case allowing government to take private property in order to give it to other people who promise more tax revenue after the seizure.

It seems an opportune time for Kennedy to depart, as cases that pit Kennedy’s two pet subjects against each other — free expression and government endorsement of sexuality — have begun to hit courts and society hard. Perhaps he cannot see a way out of the mess his decisions have made on this front, and therefore is leaving that to a new justice to untangle.

UPDATE: Here’s President Trump’s statement on Kennedy’s retirement.

The president also stated he will pick his next nominee from the list of 25 names he released last year, a revision of lists he published during his presidential campaign. The most recent list includes Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who says he’d consider the nomination if it was offered.

Correction: Bush nominated Thomas, not Reagan.