WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman said on Thursday any Supreme Court justice considering retirement from the lifetime job should announce immediately so a successor can be confirmed before the November U.S. midterm election.
Chuck Grassley, whose panel would oversee a confirmation process that at times in the past has been long and contentious, said he hoped any announcement would be “now or within two or three weeks because we’ve got to get this done before the election.” The court’s current nine-month term runs through the end of June.
The most likely justice to retire would be Anthony Kennedy, who turns 82 in July and has served since 1988. One of the nine-member court’s five conservatives, Kennedy sometimes sides with the four liberal justices on major issues like gay rights and abortion. He has said nothing about retirement plans.
If President Donald Trump appoints Kennedy’s successor, the court likely would move further to the right, with the liberals deprived of their occasional ally.
Grassley said an announcement is necessary now to allow time for a confirmation hearing and the required debate on the Senate floor before a final vote.
“So my message to any one of the nine Supreme Court justices, if you’re thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday,” Grassley told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
In November, the White House issued an expanded list of 25 potential Supreme Court nominees from which Trump could pick if another vacancy arises. The list of prominent conservative judges includes Brett Kavanaugh, a former Kennedy law clerk who serves on the U.S. appeals court in Washington.
“When you’re facing a court with members on it who have served as long as they have, it would be foolhardy not to be prepared with the possibility of another vacancy,” Leonard Leo, an outside advisor to the White House on judicial nominations, told Reuters last week.
Grassley last year oversaw the successful confirmation of Trump’s first high court nominee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who restored its conservative majority. The seat was vacant when Trump took office in January 2017 because his fellow Republicans in the Senate had refused to act on Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.
The oldest justice, 85-year-old liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has given no indication of retirement and has previously criticized Trump. Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, 79, likewise has not signaled retirement. Justices generally try to plan their retirements so a president of the same party that appointed them can name a successor.