If you are a liberal democrat or just a caring human in general, then the retiring of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy should have you nervous. Very nervous.
At eighty-one years of age, Justice Kennedy has served on the court for the better part of the last thirty years. Appointed by President Reagan in 1988, he was known as the deciding swing vote on some of the most influential cases impacting the last two generations. Even though he is a Republican, he was the positive deciding vote in Roe v Wade, he was key in death penalty legislation, and most recently wrote the decision that legalized gay marriage. But he’s not all sunshine, he voted to the conservative right on cases dealing with the blockage of gun control measures, voting rights, and unleashing campaign spending by corporations. Just this week he was on the side of President Trump’s travel ban, a very controversial ruling that will continue to have far-reaching implications.
With the retiring of Kennedy, President Trump is salivating at the mouth to appoint a conservative justice that will impact law for the foreseeable future. With a Republican-held Senate, the likelihood of a confirmation is all but guaranteed. This is a key time for Trump to swing things in his favour for countless policies, from the current situation of migrant families, to issues of homeland security, and the ever pressing concerns of the coal industry and environmental regulations.
With one appointment we could have all these important decisions resting with someone who will do exactly what our perverse president wants. Even more troubling, we could see past ruling overturned and huge societal gains lost in the blink of an eye.
We could very well see a time where a decision is made that insurance companies no longer have to cover such things as contraceptives, Plan B, and other pregnancy-related services. The road to greater governmental control over women’s bodies is but a slippery slope away. How about the well deserved and long fought awarding of rights in the LBGTQ community? Could we see those gains disappear? Absolutely. Maybe not in obvious ways, but small decisions in court cases that lead to policies that restrict rights by ‘saving’ the rights of others. (Think of the recent case where it was found constitutional to refuse to provide services based on one’s personal beliefs.) We all know the president wants to mess with the EPA, we are but one small court case away from losing public lands to private corporations who want to mine and otherwise strip the earth. How about wider powers awarded to the already power hungry ICE agency?
I’m not saying these things are going to happen for certain. We could very well be surprised, there’s nothing that says he can’t appoint another moderate conservative that will think fairly. But in less than two years in office, we have seen an administration that changes players more times than we can keep track of. I can’t remember another administration in my forty plus years that has changed this much. It seems either no one can put up with the president for long, or he grows tired of having people around when they stop doing his bidding.
Constitutional law is complex and intricate. Our president can’t seem to grasp some of those intricate concepts. But what can we do?
We need to vote. We need to demand with our votes that we want more accountability in Congress and the court. They need to delay the process of appointing a justice until after the midterm elections. (Just like with President Obama’s nomination in 2016. Anything else would be hypocritical.) We need to continue to protest and show our displeasure with elected officials who seem to think they have the power, instead of working for us.
There is no easy solution to this. But we can’t be complicit and sit back and think nothing will change. Our very rights rest on this.