Mike Lee on Trump’s short list for replacing retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Composite photo with public domain image of Mike Lee overlaid on June 1, 2017, file photo, of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. | Associated Press photo of justices by J. Scott Applewhite, St. George News

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, giving President Donald Trump a golden chance to cement conservative control of the high court.

The 81-year-old Kennedy said in a statement he is stepping down after more than 30 years on the court. A Republican appointee, he has held the key vote on such high-profile issues as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights.

In this April 10, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump, left, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy participate in a public swearing-in ceremony for Justice Neil Gorsuch in the Rose Garden of the White House White House in Washington. The 81-year-old Kennedy said Tuesday, June 27, 2018, that he is retiring after more than 30 years on the court. | Associated Press photo by Carolyn Kaster, St. George News

Kennedy said he had informed his colleagues and Trump of his plans and that his retirement will take effect at the end of July.

Trump praised Kennedy as a man of “tremendous vision” and said his search for a new justice would begin “immediately.”

Without Kennedy, the court will be split between four liberal justices who were appointed by Democratic presidents and four conservatives who were named by Republicans. Trump’s nominee is likely to give the conservatives a solid majority and will face a Senate process in which Republicans hold the slimmest majority, but Democrats can’t delay confirmation.

Trump’s first high court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed in April 2017. If past practice is any indication, Trump will name a nominee within weeks, setting in motion a process that could allow confirmation by the time the court reconvenes in early October.

Trump already has a list of 25 candidates – 24 judges and Utah Sen. Mike Lee – and has said he would choose a nominee from that list. In an article published on The Hill, Lee told reporters he “would not say no” if asked to serve on the Supreme Court.

“I started watching Supreme Court arguments for fun when I was 10 years old,” Lee said. “So if somebody asked me if I would consider that, I would not say no.” However, he added that he trusts Trump’s ability to make the decision “and make it well.”

In response to the announcement of Kennedy’s retirement, Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has participated in the confirmation process for every sitting member of the Supreme Court, released a statement congratulating Kennedy on his service to the country.

“He has been a stalwart defender of the First Amendment, federalism, and other important rights,” Hatch said. “I look forward to working with the administration over the coming weeks to guide his successor through the confirmation process. I wish Justice Kennedy and his family the very best.”

When it comes to Kennedy’s replacement, abortion is likely to be one of the flash points in the nomination fight. Kennedy has mainly supported abortion rights in his time on the court, and Trump has made clear he would try to choose justices who want to overturn the landmark abortion rights case of Roe v. Wade. Such a dramatic step may not be immediately likely, but a more conservative court might be more willing to sustain abortion restrictions.

Interest groups across the political spectrum are expected to mobilize to support and fight the nomination because it is so likely to push the court to the right.

Republicans currently hold a bare 51-49 majority in the Senate, although that includes the ailing Sen. John McCain of Arizona. If Democrats stand united in opposition to Trump’s choice, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky can lose no more than one vote. If the Senate divides 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie to confirm the nominee.

Prominent on the list of possible successors are Judges Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania and William Pryor of Alabama – who was seriously considered for the seat eventually filled by Gorsuch – and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh, who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington, is a longtime insider, having served as a law clerk to Kennedy and then as a key member of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s team that produced the report that served as the basis for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In October, Kavanaugh dissented when his court ruled that a teenage migrant in federal custody should be able to obtain an abortion immediately.

Regardless of who replaces him, this upcoming departure will be a massive change for the high court, where Kennedy has been the crucial swing vote for more than a decade. He has sided with the liberal justices on gay rights and abortion rights, as well as some cases involving race, the death penalty and the rights of people detained without charges at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. He has written all the court’s major gay-rights decisions, including the 2015 ruling that declared same-sex marriage is a constitutional right nationwide.

However, he also has been a key vote when conservatives have won major rulings on the outcome of the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush, gun rights, limiting regulation of campaign money and gutting a key provision of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act.

There were no outward signs that Kennedy was getting ready to retire. He had hired his allotment of four law clerks for the term that begins in October and he is planning to spend part of the summer as he typically does, teaching a law school class in Salzburg, Austria.

But several former law clerks have said that Kennedy, a nominee of President Ronald Reagan, preferred to be replaced by a Republican. Control of the Senate is at stake in the November elections, and if Democrats capture the majority, Trump could find it difficult to get his choice confirmed.

Few obstacles seem to stand in the way of confirming Kennedy’s replacement before the court reconvenes in October. Republicans changed the rules during Gorsuch’s confirmation to wipe out the main delaying tactic for Supreme Court nominees, the filibuster, and the need for 60 votes to defeat it.

The other two older justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, and Stephen Breyer, 79, are Democratic appointees who would not appear to be going anywhere during a Trump administration if they can help it.

Written by MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press.

St. George News contributed to this report from information provided by the Office of Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Brian June 27, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    I’m not a Trump fan (and was pretty vocal against him with my friends and family), but he did great choosing Gorsuch, and I expect the same now. This is great news. Mike Lee or his brother Thomas (which should have been mentioned in this article but wasn’t) would both be fantastic Supreme Court Justices.

    Now if Ginsburg would just retire…

    • Bender June 27, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      Bomb thrower Mike Lee belongs on the short bus rather than short list. The apple fell far from the tree. Partisan right-wing fanboys will dig him however.

    • RadRabbit June 27, 2018 at 5:38 pm

      YES!!!!! If Ginsburg goes expect full leftist meltdown. I’d personally like to see Ted Cruz on the Supreme Court I think he’d be a great fit.

      • richardspringdale June 27, 2018 at 8:52 pm

        I disagree. Why would you like to see some slimy thing like that. He’s not even LDS.
        I’m not either, but I used to respect you.

        • RadRabbit June 27, 2018 at 11:37 pm

          I’m not LDS but Cruz is a solid conservative and true to his morals.

        • Real Life June 27, 2018 at 11:44 pm

          Not even LDS? Really? Thanks for proving the sheep theory as a fact. BAAAAAA BAAAAAA.

          • Striker4 June 28, 2018 at 5:42 am

            Awwww did po widdle No Life get his panty hose in a knot again

          • John June 28, 2018 at 9:41 am

            Strikeout is obsessed with your skid marks RL… Must need another sniff!

  • Brian June 27, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Also, the article conveniently omits that Harry Reid invoked the nuclear option and changed senate rules in 2011 and 2013. Republicans merely applied that change to a Supreme Court nominee to overcome stonewalling. Of course the AP would never point out that conservatives were screaming at the top of their lungs that getting rid of the filibuster was a mistake and the democrats would regret it in the future. Well, it’s the future. Republicans didn’t change the rules, but they’re going to play by them now and use them to get their justice nominated.

    • bikeandfish June 27, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      Congressional Democrats definitely have accountability in changing voting norms. Though one point of clarity, their voting rules still required a supermajority for SCOTUS nominations.

      But make no mistake, the Congressional Republicans own the 2017 nuclear option and it has forever imbued SCOTUS nominations with petty partisan politics. It moved the ball further into dangerous territory.

      Nonetheless, the DNC played with fire and are now dealing with a life threatening burn.

      • Brian June 27, 2018 at 4:06 pm

        The only reason the democrats excluded SCOTUS nominations was that they didn’t have any in the pipeline. When they needed it they would have added it. Harry Reid and the democrats opened the door and went the first mile, then the republicans went the last inch. It definitely makes things more partisan and definitely isn’t in the best interest of the country long term. But this is the least of our worries, since as John Adams so eloquently put it, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”. We left that behind long ago and things like this are just shudders in the ship as it sinks…

      • bikeandfish June 27, 2018 at 4:33 pm

        A) its just speculation as to why they reserved long held voting rules in place for SCOTUS but fundamentally true that they didn’t encroach on that history
        B) What Congressional Republicans did wasn’t just moving the ball an inch. Fundamentally changing the historical norms of SCOTUS nominations is one of the most far reaching choices in our democracy. And McConnell’s justifications today for supporting a sudden vote, ie before midterm winners take office, proves how much politics influenced that decision.

        C). I don’t disagree with the generality of the final sentiment (though would take qualms with the quotes narrower meaning). I think this is one of the most damning chapters in Congressional history (on both sides for last 20+ years). They keep punching holes in their own boat and wondering why its sinking. It is one of the reasons I value Hyde’s foundational philosophy of governance, even though he wields it so haphazardly. Being skeptical of power is a healthy approach to politicians.

        I’m left supporting today’s SCOTUS decision on union fees but believe decisions after Kennedy leaves are forever going to be tainted by Congress’s dysfunction. (ie, Scalia was clearly conservative so the balance of power didn’t really change until now).

  • Carpe Diem June 27, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    All of these crazy politics, Trump has inherited. He’ll make lemon-aid out of lemons, but this one appears to be low hanging fruit.

    Can’t say I miss Harry Reid. Thank you Maxine Walters, and Nancy Pelosi, for your service. 😉

  • Carpe Diem June 27, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Oh, and on Mike Lee? Not a chance. What an embarrassment. I recall him shouting, protesting against Trump, yelling at the top of his lungs.
    YUCK I lost respect for him.

    • Brian June 27, 2018 at 11:49 pm

      That increased my respect for him.

      • Carpe Diem June 28, 2018 at 8:01 am

        Yeah, Glenn Beck thought so too. OOPS, never mind, Glenn needs to leave for a bit and fire another 50 employees.

  • bikeandfish June 27, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    I hope the nominee has judicial experience and isn’t a politician. But wishing is all I have as this is a lock for Trump unless democrats shut down the federal government which would be devastating on its own.

    Gotta hand it to Trump’s campaign team: they knew to run on winning SCOTUS and they succeeded.

  • jaybird June 27, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    As long as Trump can get us arguing about things we hold no power over, he wins. What I think what will happen is women lose while the perverted Trump team is in the White House. Women lose no matter what.

    • John June 28, 2018 at 9:43 am

      jailturd, you are the only one arguing, the rest of us are laughing at your pitiful existence..

    • ladybugavenger June 28, 2018 at 7:24 pm

      What will women lose? I wish to lose the right to work hahahaha I need a vacation.

  • richardspringdale June 27, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    Oh good. Mike Lee was one of those fools who was all in favor of shutting down our parks and economy.
    I don’t even think he has any true principles. That episode was painful and expensive.
    Go, Mike Lee, you have already won.
    Go eat prime rib and fly around in airplanes that us people pay for. For shame!

    • Brian June 27, 2018 at 11:49 pm

      Mike Lee didn’t shut down the government, the democrats did. Mike Lee proposed legislation that included everything they wanted ~except~ obamacare. The democrats went nuclear, not Mike Lee. AND they did so in the most painful and visible way to citizens possible. There were tons of ways they could have funded the government completely transparently and did the exact opposite. Why? To pass horrible legislation that has been an absolute disaster for their own power and gain.

      Mike Lee’s stand then was exactly why he should be on SCOTUS.

  • PlanetU June 27, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    # 25…26…..

  • jaltair June 28, 2018 at 1:27 am

    Supreme Court justices are put in place to uphold our rights and not to legislate new law through decision.  If a case isn’t regarding what legal / inalienable rights we have as people or individuals, it should be sent back to the lower courts or the state.  The SCOTUS doesn’t decide based on politics or philosophy, but by what is in the Constitution. 

    A conservative in Constitutional law usually makes the best decisions in interpreting existing Constitutional law.  A liberal believes the existing Constitutional laws are outdated and that judges should make new laws.

    Separation of powers as described in the Constitution is clear where it gives the  legislative branch the responsibility making laws.

    If decisions were made based on political persuasions,  we would lose the rule of law and that would eventually dismantle the Constitution and our country would be no better than 3rd world banana republic.

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