Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and his clerks moved up a long-planned reunion event for his staffers by a year, sparking rumors that the 30-year veteran of the high court was contemplating retirement. Should Kennedy step down, it would remove one of the Supreme Court's key swing votes and give President Trump the opportunity to give it a durable conservative majority.
The justice has not given any public indication of his plans. Nevertheless, inside-the-beltway gossip has speculated for months that Kennedy, 80, may soon step down. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, both Senate Judiciary Committee members, have said that they expect another vacancy on the court to occur this summer.
The rumors intensified following the news that the weekend reunion event's date was advanced as well as a tweet by George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, a former Kennedy clerk, on Friday: "Soon we'll know if rumors of Kennedy's retirement are accurate."
In a tweet Saturday Kerr indicated that his comment was just speculation: "The news cycle in 2017: I am now tweeting about a Drudge banner that links to a story about speculation that quotes one of my tweets."
If Kennedy were to step down it would be certain to lead to an intense fight on Capitol Hill regarding Trump's eventual nominee to replace him. Past nominations that merely replaced one Supreme Court justice with a similar like-minded one were nevertheless hard-fought battles. Kennedy's replacement has the potential to shift the balance of the court for decades.
Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Trump, said earlier this year in an interview with Infowars host Alex Jones that the likely pick to replace Kennedy was "clearly Neil Hartigan from the Western District of Pennsylvania," one of the judges Trump reportedly considered to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia before settling on Justice Neil Gorsuch. The Washington Examiner previously noted that while it is possible that Stone was referring to the former Democratic Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan, it's more likely he messed up the name of Judge Thomas Hardiman, a 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals judge who appeared on Trump's Supreme Court short lists.