President Trump getting Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court to replace the late justice Antonin Scalia ensures that there will be at least four genuinely conservative justices on the court – Gorsuch, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito – but the balance of power on the court generally rests with Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose positions are neither consistently conservative or leftist.
But the shifting balance of the court could be swung powerfully toward conservatism for a generation quite soon if Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Judiciary committee, is correct: he says that one of the five non-conservative justices will leave the court by summer 2017.
On Tuesday, during a Q&A session in the town of Muscatine, Grassley posited, “I would expect a resignation this summer.” Grassley was echoing Texas Senator Ted Cruz who said last week, “I think we’re likely to see another vacancy potentially as soon as this summer.”
Grassley added that he expected Trump to choose justices from the same list of potential nominees from which Gorsuch was chosen. “I don’t know about racial and ethnic divisions, but there’s some very good females on there that would make good Supreme Court Justices as well,” Grassley said.
The most likely candidates to leave the court include Kennedy, 80, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1988 and is the longest-serving justice, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 84, the hard-leftist appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993.
Kennedy has straddled both sides politically; he wrote the opinion for Citizens United v. FEC, a conservative victory which ruled that freedom of speech prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit organization, but also wrote the opinions for Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges, which paved the way for same-sex marriage.
Ginsburg’s health has been the subject of much speculation; she has survived colon cancer and pancreatic cancer. She told ABC News in 2016, “At my age, you have to take it year by year. I know this year I’m okay,” adding she could still do 20 pushups. She boasted, “I do ten, and then I breathe, and then I do ten more.”
Ginsburg has made it clear she does not want a conservative replacing her.
Since the Republicans used the so-called “nuclear option” to confront a Democratic filibuster in order to get Gorsuch confirmed, the GOP needs a simple majority of 51 votes in the Senate to confirm a Supreme Court nomination rather than a 60-vote supermajority to end debate on a Supreme Court nominee.