​Supreme Court retirement triggers Republican-Democratic fight

By Haifa Said
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, July 10, 2018
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"Political war," "uproar" and "apocalypse" are some of the words that have dominated the news content of media outlets describing the general political atmosphere that gripped the U.S. in the aftermath of the Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's retirement announcement on June 27.

The Supreme Court of the United States. [File photo/Xinhua]

Leaving the 9-member Supreme Court bench, where justices serve for life unless they choose to retire or pass away, is an important political event, as it gives the President Trump the chance to affect a fundamental shift in the structure of the Court that could reshape its future for decades.

Under the almost 82-year-old Kennedy, the Court has been relatively balanced, with the originally conservative but moderate-leaning justice often serving as a "swing vote" -- as called by media -- siding sometimes with the four conservative justices and in others with the four liberal justices, molding the ideological identity of highly important and controversial cases that have a nationwide effect.

Kennedy, who once served as an altar boy at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Sacramento, California, unpredictably tilted the court to the left in various contentious cases involving individual freedom. Constitutionalizing the right to abortion in 1973, striking against the death penalty for juvenile criminals in 2005, legalizing gay marriage across the U.S. in 2015, and upholding major components of the Affordable Care Act, are some of Kennedy's landmark cases where he sided with the liberals.

Conservative principles have also been maintained in many rulings in which Kennedy defended conservative ideals, including regarding the voting rights, [1] releasing restrictions on gun possession, allowing corporations to make unlimited political campaign donations, ending election vote recount in 2000 that handed the presidency to Republican George W. Bush, and most recently embracing Trump's travel ban and disabling labor unions.

Expected to quit on July 31 after serving for more than 30 years, Kennedy's empty seat gives Republican Donald Trump a golden opportunity to swing the Supreme Court in his favor, stamp it with a conservative identity for generations, and thus leave what might be his longest-lasting imprint as a U.S. president.

This prospect has put the Democrats on edge, vowing to fight a bitter battle to block Trumpism from dominating the U.S. political landscape for potential decades to come.

Trump has clearly stressed his commitment to act upon the promise he made during his 2016 presidential campaign, which is to choose from of a prepared list of nominees conservative justices to be installed on the Supreme Court, should he get the chance to do so.

As soon as Trump came into office, he delivered on his promise and seized the opportunity in February 2016 with the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, by picking the conservative Neil Gorsuch to fill his role on the court, who gained Senate confirmation in April 2017.

The case of appointing Gorsuch has been considered a calculated move made by Trump to transform the makeup of the Supreme Court in favor of the conservatives. Selecting Judge Gorsuch, who served as a law clerk to Justice Kennedy, was allegedly meant to assure the latter, who is said to have been pondering retirement for more than a year, that his successor would also be rightly selected.

The timing of Kennedy's resignation has also been tinted with conspiracy. There are those who claim that his retirement was pushed to come before the U.S. midterm elections in November, in exchange for the Trump-selected successor rescuing Kennedy's son Justin, who allegedly is involved in Russian election meddling, and whom Trump had dealt with in the course of a business relationship with Deutsche Bank where Justin had worked.

Democrats are demanding the Senate confirmation of Trump's preferred nominee to replace Kennedy take place after midterm elections, during which they hope they can secure enough seats to take control of the now Republican-dominated Senate, and thus block Trump's bid to appoint another conservative justice.

They base their argument on modeling their efforts to the Republicans' blocking the confirmation of Barack Obama's nominated Merrick Garland as Scalia's successor in 2016 through insisting on waiting for a new president to pick a new justice, a bid that successfully ended with Trump's installation of Gorsuch.

Democrats worry that having a new highly committed conservative justice on the bench might endanger many liberal-advocated precedents on social issues that Kennedy has helped put in place, including abortion, gay marriage and healthcare.

Both sides have vowed to fight fiercely to enforce their own political ideology, and the result of this furious fight will affect the future of the entire U.S.'s legal system and the values of American identity.

The author is an editor and journalist focused on international and China-related affairs

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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