Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., just mainlined a shot of pure adrenaline into the heart of the conservative base. With his back against the wall, the Nevada Republican predicted that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will hang up his robe and leave the court this summer.
Wishful thinking or inside information, rumors of a vacancy will rejuvenate the conservative base as Heller faces an irritating primary challenger in Danny Tarkanian. He straight up said as much.
“Kennedy is going to retire around sometime early summer,” Heller predicted in Las Vegas last week, according to audio of an event first obtained by Politico. “Which I’m hoping will get our base a little motivated because right now they’re not very motivated. But I think a new Supreme Court justice will get them motivated.”
If true, this would be a gift to any Republican incumbent running for re-election in 2018. But how would Heller know whether Kennedy wants to end his 30-year career?
Supreme Court justices don’t often pal around with sitting U.S. senators. More than most, the Judiciary is distant, even cold sometimes judging from the expressionless faces of the Supreme Court at every State of the Union address. It seems entirely unlikely that Kennedy will call up Heller, or any other Republican, to chat about when he might step down. But his kids might have.
After Trump gave his first address to Congress, a hot mic picked up some small talk between the president and the justice.
Trump: “Say hello to your boy. Special guy.”
Kennedy: “Your kids have been very nice to him.”
Trump: “Well, they love him, and they love him in New York.”
That relationship could be a good source of intelligence. Improbable but not impossible, the Kennedy kids might have told the Trump kids that their father was ready to step down, a message that would’ve been relayed to the Oval Office. From there, Trump may have told Heller. It’s a confusing game of telephone but it could explain why a one-term senator from Nevada has inside information about the court.
But as many were quick to point out, Kennedy has already hired a new batch of law clerks for next October and it seems unlikely he will stand them up at the court.
A more simple explanation is more cynical. Heller is just repeating idle Senate chatter in hopes of resuscitating his anemic base. If that’s the case, it worked. Conservatives on Twitter are already salivating at the idea of solidifying their judicial majority and overturning, among other cases, Roe v. Wade.
Plus, Heller included a sweetener for a bloc of especially active Western voters. He floated Republican Sen. Mike Lee of next door Utah for the nomination. A conservative stalwart everywhere else, Lee is a chosen son to the Mormon community. They are politically motivated. They care about traditional social conservative issues. They make up about 6 percent of the population in Nevada.
Either way, rumor or hard fact, the speculation about Kennedy is trending in Heller’s favor. The leaked audio to Politico may have been the jump start his campaign needed.