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The challenge of finding Kennedy’s replacement

A seismic shift is about to occur in this nation’s judicial system, with the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy, although he disliked the description, was often called a “swing vote.” He will serve the rest of his tenure until July 31, the end of this month. The soon-to-be 82 year old made his intentions known on Wednesday, June 27.

What this means is that what was widely regarded as a voice of reason will now be replaced by a Trump nominee. During his 43 years serving on the highest court in the land, Kennedy has weighed in on everything from the nation’s health care system to affirmative action to gun rights to campaign finance to the death penalty to reproductive rights to gay marriage. 

A fierce protector of LGBT rights, Kennedy declared the union of two people — whether of the opposite sex or the same sex — a fundamental constitutional right.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” stated Kennedy in one of the four opinions he wrote on the subject during the past two decades. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than what they once were.”

Now, President Trump has the opportunity to cherry-pick our next Supreme Court justice. He’s already put one man on the bench, Justice Neil Gorsuch (who incidentally served as a clerk for Kennedy 25 years ago). The president’s next choice could be even more conservative, putting in jeopardy landmark decisions like Roe v. Wade.

That’s troubling, because  abortions need to remain legal in order for them to be obtained safely and without shame. Reversing that decision could prove a fatal blow to women’s reproductive rights. And now, the Republican-controlled Senate has the advantage, with only a simple majority of 51 votes needed to confirm a nominee.

Democratic leaders are calling on their GOP counterparts to withhold from confirming a nominee until after the mid-term elections. Remember, the Republicans did the same when President Barrack Obama tried to get Judge Merrick Garland confirmed prior to the 2016 presidential  election. It would be pure hypocrisy for Republicans to confirm a nominee now, before the mid-terms. But with so much at stake, they very well might. 

A centrist conservative, Kennedy understood that the nation should not be bound by the original intent of our Founding Fathers. He’s been quoted stating that the Founders knew they were creating a fluid document.

“They knew time can blind us to certain truths,” he wrote following a decision in 2003, “and later generations can see that laws, once thought necessary and proper, in fact serve only to oppress.”

Trump’s nominee might not agree with that philosophy. A radical conservative could reverse years of decisions made by a more balanced court, not to mention put a clamp on future rulings many in this nation would consider fair and just. 

We can only hope the nominee who gets confirmed to serve as our next Supreme Court justice is fair-minded and even-tempered, and doesn’t lean to the extreme. Many Americans are praying for a centrist, like Kennedy, who consistently acted in the public’s best interest.

Senate Minority Leader and New York State Senator Chuck Schumer summed it up best. 

“The Senate should reject anyone who will instinctively side with powerful special interests over the interests of average Americans.” 

It should, let’s see if it will.