Tag Archives: Anthony Kennedy

Court brings cause for concern

Oh, brother.

Donald J. Trump is predicting he could get to fill as many as four seats on the U.S. Supreme Court.

How does that grab you? I’ll tell you the unvarnished truth: It scares the ever-loving bejabbers out of me.

The president already has picked Justice Neil Gorsuch for the highest court in the land; he replaced another conservative, Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly a year ago in Texas. Justice Anthony Kennedy is reportedly considering retirement. Who’s next? Might it be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Try this one on for size: Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

Trump could swing court balance

That’s four of them. Kennedy is considered a “swing vote” on the court; Ginsburg and Sotomayor are part of the so-called “liberal wing.” Ginsburg’s health reportedly has been getting more frail over the years. Sotomayor, one of the court’s younger members, suffers from Type 1 diabetes, which could inhibit her ability to continue.

What might occur? Trump will get to appoint justices who’ll swing the court so far to the right that it could scare a whole lot more Americans than just yours truly.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to send good-health vibes to Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg and Sotomayor. We need them on the highest court in the land to maintain some semblance of balance and reason.

Get set to watch further politicization of federal judiciary

Now there are “reports” that Anthony Kennedy is considering an end to his judicial career.

The Supreme Court associate justice’s retirement, if it comes next week as some are thinking it might, is going to produce something I suspect the nation’s founders didn’t anticipate when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.

That would be the extreme politicization of the judicial selection process.

Those silly men. Sure, they were smart. They weren’t clairvoyant.

The present-day reality is that the process has become highly political. When did politics play such a key role in selecting these jurists? It’s hard to pinpoint the start of it all. Some might suggest it began with President Reagan’s appointment in 1987 of Robert Bork to succeed Lewis Powell, who had retired. The Senate would reject Bork largely on the basis of his vast record of ultraconservative writings and legal opinions.

Clarence Thomas’s nomination in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush also produced plenty of fireworks, owing to the testimony of Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment and assorted acts of impropriety.

On and one it has gone, through Democratic and Republican administrations ever since.

The founders wrote a provision into the Constitution that allows federal judges to get lifetime appointments. The idea was to remove politics from their legal writings. Indeed, some judges have taken seats on the U.S. Supreme Court with their presidential benefactors expecting them to toe a philosophical line, only to be disappointed when they veer along uncharted judicial trails.

It’s too early to tell whether Justice Neil Gorsuch will fall into that pattern. He was Donald J. Trump’s initial pick for the high court. The president might get to make another appointment quite soon. Then again, maybe not.

Whenever that moment arrives, you can take this to the bank: The next Supreme Court pick is going to ignite a whopper of a political fight if one side of the Senate sees a dramatic shift in the court’s ideological balance.

Something tells me the founders might not have anticipated these judicial nominations would come to this.

It’s all about the court balance

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President Obama picked up the phone today and made a couple of important calls.

One of them went to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; the other went to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. Both men are Republicans. The president is a Democrat.

The president informed the senators he intends to make a pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. And, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, Sens. McConnell and Grassley both voted in favor of President Reagan’s “lame duck” selection of Anthony Kennedy to join the court in 1988, which was just as much of an election year as 2016.

McConnell, though, says the current president should pick the next justice. That task belongs to the next president, he said.

What has changed?

It’s the balance of the court. It means everything. Every single thing.

You see, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the man Obama wants to replace, was a conservative stalwart on the court. The president is not a conservative; therefore, his appointee won’t echo the judicial philosophy of Justice Scalia.

The next justice — if he or she is approved by the current Senate before the end of this year — is likely to change the fundamental balance of the court, which has comprised a thin conservative majority.

Senate Republicans don’t want the court balance to change. They’ll do whatever they can to prevent the president from making the pick.

There’s just this one little issue that, by my way of thinking, should matter more than anything else. The Constitution grants the president the authority to make the appointment, which this president said he’s going to do. It also grants the Senate the authority to vote whether to approve or deny the appointment. It doesn’t require the Senate to act.

If the Republican-controlled Senate is going to stymie the president, then it faces a serious charge of obstruction. Senate Republicans keep denying the obstructionist label.

A failure, though, to act in a timely fashion on this appointment gives even the casual observer ample cause to suggest that, by golly, we have just witnessed a case of political obstruction.

If the president selects someone who is eminently qualified and who has a proven record of judicial moderation — which conservatives still will see a serious break with the conservative judicial record built by the late Justice Scalia — then shouldn’t the Senate give that nominee a fair hearing and a timely vote?

I would say “yes.” Without equivocation.

 

Election-year vacancies . . . all the rage

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As long as we’re talking about filling a Supreme Court vacancy during an election year . . .

Republican senators don’t want to consider a potential nominee who’ll be offered by President Obama. They want the next president to send someone for their consideration. Barack Obama is a “lame duck,” they say.

The last lame-duck president to send a nominee to the Senate was Ronald Reagan. The Senate confirmed Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court in 1988.

So, you might be asking: Is it a common occurrence for the president to send a Supreme Court nominee to the Senate during an election year, lame-duck status or not?

I looked it up. Here’s what I found.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominated Frank Murphy, who was confirmed in 1940.

Dwight Eisenhower recommended William Brennan; the Senate confirmed him in 1956.

Richard Nixon sent two nominees to the Senate during an election cycle: Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist; the Senate confirmed them in 1972.

Let’s go back a bit farther. William Howard Taft nominated Mahlon Pitney, who was confirmed in 1912. Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis and John Clarke, both of whom were confirmed in 1916.

This election-year moratorium nonsense being promoted by the likes of Senate Mitch McConnell and other Republicans should be revealed for what it is: a cheap political ploy to deny a Democratic president the opportunity to fulfill his constitutional duty.

Granted, all the examples I cited here — except for President Reagan’s nomination of Justice Kennedy — do not involve “lame duck” presidents.

The phoniness of McConnell’s desire to block any attempt by Obama to fill a vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s tragic death is transparent and obvious, given what has transpired in the past 100 years.

How about allowing President Obama to do the job to which he was elected twice to perform?

 

Get ready for the biggest fight of all

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The fight over immigration?

Or the Affordable Care Act?

Or budget priorities?

How about gay marriage?

All of those battles between President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress are going to pale in comparison to what’s coming up: the battle to find a suitable nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden and tragic death Saturday has caused political apoplexy in both sides of the divide in Washington.

Democrats want the president to nominate someone sooner rather than later. Republicans want the nomination to wait until after the election, with the hope that one of their own will occupy the White House beginning Jan. 20, 2017.

President Obama indicated last night he’s inclined to move forward, to nominate someone and to insist on a “timely vote.”

He is correct to insist that he be allowed to fulfill his constitutional responsibility and that the Senate fulfill its own duties.

One of the Republican candidates, Sen. Marco Rubio, said last night that no one has been appointed during an election year. He’s half-right. President Reagan appointed Anthony Kennedy to the high court in 1987; a Democratically controlled Senate confirmed him in 1988, which certainly was an election year.

Consider this, though: Justice Kennedy succeeded another GOP nominee, the late Justice Lewis Powell (picked by President Nixon). Kennedy’s appointment and confirmation did not fundamentally change the balance of the court.

This vacancy is different. By a lot.

Justice Scalia was a towering figure among the conservative majority that serves on the court. Whoever Obama selects surely will tilt to the left.

Therein lies the fight.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said the vacancy should be filled after the election, adding that the “American people deserve a voice” in determining who sits on the court.

He could not be more off base. Yes, the voters deserve a voice. However, they spoke decisively about that in November 2012 when they re-elected Barack Obama as president.

Indeed, elections have consequences. There can arguably no greater consequence than determining who gets to select candidates to sit on the nation’s highest court.

The president — whoever he or she is — has a constitutional responsibility to act on a timely manner when these vacancies occur. Moreover, the Senate has an equal responsibility to vote up or down on anyone nominated by the president.

I’ve long believed in presidential prerogative — and my belief in that has never wavered regardless of the president’s party affiliation.

So, let’s mourn the death of a distinguished and, in the president’s words “consequential” justice. Then let us allow the president to do the job allowed by the Constitution and then let us demand that the Senate do its job by voting on whoever the president selects to fill this critical court vacancy.

 

Kennedy channels Blackmun and makes history

It’s always risky to put too fine a point on some historical events, but today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states tells me that the court has issued a ruling that is going to change the nation’s landscape … forever.

We can give credit — although some will assess blame — on one justice. That would be Anthony Kennedy, a normally conservative justice who sided with the liberals on the court and wrote the 5-4 majority opinion legalizing gay marriage.

Game, set and match? Not by a long shot.

Kennedy’s role, though, does have an interesting parallel with another justice from another time — with whom he served for five years on the same Supreme Court.

Harry Blackmun was selected to the court in 1971 by a conservative president, Richard Nixon; Kennedy joined the court in 1988 when another conservative president, Ronald Reagan, nominated him.

Blackmun eventually would veer far from where President Nixon thought he’d travel as he served on the highest court in the land. Blackmun became one of the court’s more liberal members.

In January 1973, he authored a landmark ruling that made abortion legal in the United States. Roe v. Wade was a case out of Texas in which the court overturned a Texas law that made getting an abortion a felony offense. Blackmun’s opinion stated that women essentially were entitled to control their own reproductive capacity. The 7-2 ruling set the stage for a debate that hasn’t let up over the course of the past 42 years, but it was a huge decision.

The man on the hot seat now is Kennedy, who remains a conservative jurist. But on this issue, gay marriage, he has decided — along with the court’s liberal wing — that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, with its equal protection clause, trumps states’ reluctance to allow gay couples to marry.

I doubt strongly we’re going to see Justice Kennedy become a flaming liberal in the wake of this ruling. He just happens to be right — and courageous — in making this decision.

Just as Roe v. Wade changed the landscape in early 1973, today’s ruling on gay marriage sets the stage for another gigantic sea change across the nation.

I wish I was a fly on Justice Kennedy’s wall when he talked this over with his court colleagues and his staff as he pondered how he would write this Earth-shattering opinion. Something tells me he heard the late Justice Blackmun’s voice.

 

Three cheers for appointed federal judges

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Take a good look at this picture. It shows the nine men and women who have upheld the Affordable Care Act’s federal subsidy provision.

The U.S. Supreme Court has protected health insurance for an estimated 6.5 million Americans.

But to hear the criticism from the right in this country, you would think these individuals have just destroyed the U.S. Constitution they took an oath to uphold and to interpret fairly and without bias.

Thank goodness for the constitutional provision that allows these individuals to hold lifetime jobs, free of the kind of political pressure that forces elected judges at times to tilt in favor of interests whose job is to put heat on politicians.

The 6-3 ruling crossed ideological lines. Two conservatives — Chief Justice John Roberts and Associated Justice Anthony Kennedy — ruled with the majority. The three dissenters — Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito — held firm in their belief that the ACA violates the Constitution.

Six justices voted for the ACA; three of them voted against it.

Majority rule wins, yes?

Republican presidential candidates went ballistic. Mike Huckabee called the court majority “judicial tyrants.” Ted Cruz threw the “lawless” adjective out there — again.

The founders got it right when they made the federal judiciary an unelected branch of government. They intended for federal judges to be free of the pressure that can overwhelm elected politicians. Presidents feel it. Legislators feel it. They are elected to represent us all. We might not like all the decisions they make, but we have recourse: we can vote them out when the next election rolls around.

Not so with federal judges. They are appointed to lifetime jobs. Yes, they are appointed by politicians with particular biases and philosophies. The judges then are subjected to sometimes grueling hearings before the Senate, which has the authority to approve or reject their appointments.

Once they take their seat on the bench, though, all bets are off.

Occasionally, these appointees evolve into judges that their benefactors — the presidents who appoint them — might not like.

That’s part of the process the founders established.

And the irony of all the outrage being expressed by those who oppose the Supremes’ support of the ACA is that many of those on the right proclaim themselves to be “strict constructionists” of the Constitution. The way I read the Constitution, it states with crystal clarity that federal judges serve for as long as they want — or are able — to do the job.

 

City Hall ‘change’ beginning to take shape

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Mark Nair may becoming a sort of “swing vote” on the Amarillo City Council.

Just as Justice Anthony Kennedy helps determine which direction the Supreme Court tilts on key rulings, so might City Councilman-elect Nair be — in the words of a former president of the United States — a “decider.”

He’s one of three new guys to join the five-member council. He won a runoff election this past Saturday to win his spot on Place 4.

And he’s sounding like someone intent on changing the way business has been done at City Hall.

I remain a bit confused, though, regarding his intentions.

A lengthy newspaper interview published Monday noted a couple of things.

Nair said he doesn’t want to “undo” downtown redevelopments that already are under “contractual obligation.” He does, though, want to rethink the multipurpose event venue and plans to argue that it go before the voters for their approval.

Suppose, then, that voters say “no” to the MPEV. What happens next? Nair referenced the “catalyst projects” that already are under contract: the convention hotel and the parking garage. If the MPEV is torpedoed, does the hotel get built anyway? It’s always been my understanding that the hotel developer’s plans for the Embassy Suites complex is predicated on the MPEV and without the event venue, there’s no need for a parking garage.

It’s all tied together, correct?

Nair deserves congratulations for winning his initial elected office. He presents himself as a thoughtful young man. He said he wants to talk with City Manager Jarrett Atkinson — who he said he doesn’t know — about the problems that have beset the city. Things have to change, Nair said. The water bill SNAFU cannot go uncorrected, he said and he asserts that the manager, as the city’s CEO, is responsible for ensuring the place runs smoothly.

But the folks in charge of it all — the policy team — sit on the City Council. They have to operate as a team, along with the senior city administration. That was the mantra prior to the election.

We now shall see if the new guys can play well with each other — and those who do their bidding.

Mark Nair, the newest of the new fellows, vows to “work for the common good.”

Get busy, gentlemen.