By Arturo Castaãres / La Prensa San Diego Publisher and CEO
Last week’s news that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will soon retire was joyous news to social conservatives, and another boon for Republicans still looking for ways to justify their support of Donald Trump.
Another appointment to the highest court in the land could cement a conservative majority on the SCOTUS for decades to come.
Trump’s first selection, Neil Gorsuch, was only 49 years old when he was seated last year and could serve for three or four more decades. Even Chief Justice Roberts, appointed by George W. Bush in 2005, is now only 63 years old.
Together with the two other conservatives on the Court, Clarence Thomas, 68, and Samuel Alito, 67, Trump’s next appointment can leave a right-leaning Supreme Court for the rest of Trump’s own lifetime.
Kennedy will turn 82 next month and has served on the court since being nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1987 at age 51. He has served for just over 30 years and is finally ready to retire.
Since the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006, Kennedy has been the swing vote on the Court, sometimes surprising conservatives when he’s sided with the liberal members of the Court on cases that have included upholding Roe v. Wade in a 1992 case, and voted with liberals to reaffirm women’s reproductive rights in a 2016 case that struck down Texas’ restrictions on clinics.
Kennedy has also sided with the left-leaning Justices in historic gay rights cases. Kennedy has written the majority’s opinion in every gay rights case since 1996 and has been reliably consistent in defending individuals’ rights to privacy in their personal lives.
Affirmative action has also been one of Kennedy’s most liberal positions, having voted with the liberal members in a 2016 Texas case that upheld race-based college admissions policies, holding that a university had a right to target its own admissions to define its characteristics, identity, and mission. It was a blow to conservatives.
On the other hand, Kennedy sided with the conservatives when he was the swing vote in the landmark campaign finance case of Citizens United v. FEC which gave corporations and labor unions the ability to spend unlimited amounts on elections and unleashed new levels of spending in politics, mostly through independent political action committees, or Super PACs. Since that case, which liberals still vehemently oppose, Republican candidates, including Donald Trump, have benefitted from multi-million dollar contributions from billionaires, including $40 million from casino owner Sheldon Adelson, and businessmen Charles and David Koch who have given more than $100 million to conservative campaigns.
Kennedy has been an unreliable conservative vote on the Court, and many conservatives have been hoping his retirement would come while they had a Republican in the White House that would appoint a more friendly Justice.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, conservatives jockeyed for position with several reliable conservative candidates to choose from, including Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and even Jeb Bush.
The least favorite Republican candidate for social conservatives was the thrice-married, reality TV star-turned-politician that used to be a Democrat, donated to Hillary Clinton, and claimed in 1999 that he was “very pro-choice.”
And who can forget the Access Hollywood tape of Trump bragging about assaulting women. Right-wingers rejected Trump.
But, a strange thing happened on the way to the election.
Trump ended up beating all the establishment GOP candidates and became their party’s nominee for President, so conservatives were left having to support a man they personally detested because he was their only hope for like-minded judges being appointed to state, federal, and Supreme Court vacancies.
Social conservatives like Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and successor, had to begin making excuses for their support of a candidate that was antithetical to their entire platform.
Graham did not support Trump during the campaign but has recently said he believes Trump is “a changed man” and that God intervened to give Trump the win.
Like Graham, other social conservatives have had to bite their tongues and stand beside the President in what must be a difficult situation to explain to their friends, but, they seem to find solace in the one thing Trump can deliver that they never would have gotten from a President Hillary Clinton.
During his first 18 months in office, Trump delivered on at least one of his campaign promises; to appoint conservatives to the bench.
Trump has nominated over 100 federal judges, with 33 already having been confirmed, and dozens more in the pipeline. Fifteen of the federal appellate court nominees average only 49 years of age.
On the Supreme Court, Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch last year was seen as a perfect pick for social conservatives. As a strict constructionist, Gorsuch follows the theory of law that courts should follow the plain reading of the Constitution’s wording, even in today’s world.
In just his first year on the Court, Gorsuch dissented in a case that struck down an Arkansas law that treated same-sex couples differently, dissented in a VA case regarding disability claims, and dissented in a challenge to California’s law restricting gun permits.
With another appointment to the high court, Trump could swing decisions on affirmative action, gay rights, women’s reproductive rights, and other progressive social issues back toward a conservative bent, and change American society for generations.
Surely social conservatives have taken a lot of heat from their church friends for remaining loyal to a President that seems to relish fights, disrupting government institutions, and even threatening our global allies in way that unnerve traditional Republicans.
But, in the end, their political dreams may at last be fulfilled by the least likely of candidates, a man that many would surely not invite to their family get-togethers but may end up being their most reliable conservative operative.
Trump may not be worthy of being fitted for a halo, but he may end up being their redeemer.