Is the Justice Kennedy Retirement Rumor Simply a Campaign Stunt?

It took holding a seat on the Supreme Court of the Unites States vacant for over a year — completely thwarting democratic ideals – for Republicans to snag a surprise electoral college victory in 2016. Now that the GOP realizes it’s in imminent danger of being swept out of power in the midterms, is it any wonder that the party may be turning to SCOTUS again?

According to endangered Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller, there’s about to be yet another vacancy on the Supreme Court in the near future. This time, Heller claims, that vacancy will be left by moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. And, if Heller is to be believed, this vacancy could be announced as early as this summer.

Politico reports:

Dean Heller knows he’s the most vulnerable Republican senator in the country. But he thinks Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy might just help him hang on to his seat. “Kennedy is going to retire around sometime early summer,” Heller predicted in Las Vegas last week, according to audio of an event he spoke at that was obtained by POLITICO. “Which I’m hoping will get our base a little motivated because right now they’re not very motivated. But I think a new Supreme Court justice will get them motivated.”

If Kennedy does, in fact, announce his retirement this summer, the timing couldn’t be any better for the Republican party. Unlike the open seat after the death of far-right conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, the GOP won’t be forced to block a new appointment..

And if Kennedy stays on the bench until a new appointee is confirmed, the right could theoretically campaign on this court opening without being pinned as obstructionist. If he stepped down immediately upon announcing his retirement,the GOP could directly replace him with a more conservative justice — or blame Democrats if they hold up the process.

There’s no way that a retirement announcement from Kennedy wouldn’t benefit the Republican Party in the midterms — and that fact is probably the best indication that Heller’s prediction is far more of a pipe dream than any actual insider scoop on the judge’s future plans.

Unlike other conservative justices — Clarence Thomas or Neil Gorsuch, for instance — Kennedy is part of the old-school Supreme Court bench that believes it’s improper to get too involved in electoral politics. Sure, liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg inserted herself into the 2016 presidential race a bit by slamming then GOP nominee Donald Trump. But it was an incident called “unprecedented” by most — and one that caused Ginsburg to backtrack and state that she should remain outside of politics for the sake of the independence of the judiciary.

If Kennedy announces that he plans to step down, there’s no way such a move could be construed as anything but an attempt to throw the midterms to the GOP, and Kennedy well knows it. After decades as the moderate swing vote on many defining cases, it’s hard to imagine Kennedy wanting to toss aside his legacy in such a blatantly political act — especially on behalf of a Republican party that has become so extreme in the last eight years.

Kennedy isn’t going anywhere, and Heller is probably well aware of that fact. The fact that he’s willing to stake his own political reputation on this claim — especially when this fabrication will become clear in a few months – shows just how vulnerable Heller truly feels heading into the 2018 midterms.