Californian lawyer Anthony Kennedy was appointed to the US Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan and took his seat on the bench in February 18, 1988. Today, just over 30 years later, Justice Kennedy announced his retirement in a letter to US President Donald Trump.
There has been much speculation about Kennedy’s departure all year. Perhaps the Trump travel ban case is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Kennedy concurred with the majority, allowing the ban to stand and finding no evidence of anti-Muslim animus in the official presidential Proclamation that bars entry to residents of six predominantly-Muslim nations and some Venezuelans. But he also warned Trump, albeit in his mild way, against violating the First Amendment:
The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion and promises the free exercise of religion. From these safeguards, and from the guarantee of freedom of speech, it follows there is freedom of belief and expression. It is an urgent necessity that officials adhere to these constitutional guarantees and mandates in all their actions, even in the sphere of foreign affairs. An anxious world must know that our Government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve and protect, so that freedom extends outward, and lasts.
Although appointed by a Republican president, Kennedy is considered a “swing voter,” who often bridges the ideological divide between right and left. With his departure, a divided court that often decides cases with a 5-4 split, is likely to be at an impasse until he is replaced, and will likely lean to the right if a Trump appointee takes the bench in his stead.
This is the letter he sent to the president:
Republicans are no doubt pleased with the development. Senator Mitch McConnell has reportedly already stated that the party will move to replace Kennedy by next fall.
The White House today issued a statement on Kennedy’s retirement, calling him “a true man of letters” and “a tireless voice for individual rights and the Founders’ vision of limited government.” His writing, according to the statement, “left an indelible mark not only on this generation but the fabric of American history.”
Kennedy was born on July 23, 1936, which will make him 82 years old when he retires on July 31. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, three years Kennedy’s senior, is the oldest justice on the bench now and has vowed to hang on through the Trump administration when people speculate about her retirement. Now she has added motivation.
In the latest financial disclosures by the justices, Kennedy demonstrated his unique style. His is not an overly complicated life. Of all the justices, he has the simplest financial portfolio—no securities or trusts, just cash in a bank account and three life insurance policies. His wife is a retired teacher.