Justice Kennedy Retirement Rumors Swell To A Fever Pitch

"All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy."

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy is seen during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House April 10, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Eric Thayer / Stringer / Getty Images

Rumors about whether or not Justice Kennedy will step down from his role on the Supreme Court have reached unprecedented levels, according to The Hill.

"All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, who reportedly considered calling it quits last spring," reports The Hill. "As the court’s current term winds to a close, speculation about his plans has again swept the capital, with court watchers searching for clues."

While some see the writing on the wall, others say the signals are fairly clear that Justice Kennedy intends to stay for at least another year.

"I don’t think he would have hired all four clerks for next year if he was seriously entertaining stepping down," said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. "I just don’t think it’s going to happen."

But former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Ian Samuel, a Climenko fellow and lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, said that the small number of cases accepted by the Supreme Court indicates something else.

"One possibility is they are not granting cases because they don’t know who their ninth member is going to be," said Samuel. "You could imagine Kennedy telling the chief, 'I’d like to keep this between us, but I’d like to retire,' and the chief saying, 'Let’s see who Kennedy’s replacement is before we grant all these cases.'"

Retirement proponents also point out the fact that Kennedy's wife attended the final oral arguments on April 25, which could indicate she wanted to see the last oral arguments of her husband's career. SCOTUSblog's Mark Walsh, however, dispelled such speculation by noting that the wives of Breyer, Alito and Gorsuch were seated in the VIP section, too.

Republicans certainly welcome the retirement of Justice Kennedy, believing that his exit could pave the way for a new (hopefully more conservative) justice to take his place. Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) expressed his hope to conservative radio show Hugh Hewitt that Kennedy retire this summer.

"I hope it’s now or within two or three weeks, because we’ve got to get this done before the election," he said, adding a specific message to the justices: "If you’re thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday."

Appointed in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, Kennedy has become a notorious moderate swing-voter who endorsed abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and overturned traditional marriage laws in Obergerfell.

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