BATTLE OVER ABORTION: Trump interviews four Supreme Court candidates as final decision looms; Democrats say fight over Roe v. Wade certain

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he had interviewed four potential Supreme Court nominees as he inches closer toward selecting a replacement for soon retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Speaking during a White House press event with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Trump said he intends to meet with two or three more candidates but should announce his final decision “over the next few days.”

“They are outstanding people. They are really incredible people in so many different ways,” the president said of those currently under consideration. “I had a very, very interesting morning.”

Trump’s chance to replace Kennedy with another conservative, say many legal analysts, will allow him to turn control of nation’s highest court firmly to the right.

The White House confirmed Monday that Trump’s in-house lawyer, Don McGahn, has been charged with overseeing the nomination process, which includes vetting the current nominees and briefing the president on his findings.

Whoever the president’s pick is to replace Kennedy, he or she will likely face a brutal confirmation process, particularly in the Senate, although Republicans currently hold the majority.

A hot topic issue since Kennedy’s retirement announcement has been whether or not the president will appoint a justice who is likely to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in the United States.

Democrats say they will oppose any justice nominee who has voiced an opinion that the controversial ruling should be overturned.

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PANIC AT THE DNC: Dems in meltdown mode over Kennedy retirement

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Breaking news of Justice Kennedy’s retirement Wednesday interrupted a conference call with DNC leaders, prompting audible sounds of shock and anguish.

“Justice Anthony Kennedy has just announced that he’s retiring,” one person announced to the group.

“Ohhhh!” one person yelled in response.

“Oh my God,” another replied.

“Not that he’s done us any good on these recent decisions, but he was the one who was usually persuadeable,” yet another lamented.

The 81-year-old Kennedy announced via statement Wednesday that he was stepping down after more than 30 years on the bench. A Republican appointee, Kennedy held the key vote on such high-profile issues as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights.

President Donald Trump, who was earlier made aware of Kennedy’s plans to retire, already has a list of 25 candidates lined up to fill the jurist’s spot.

According to reports, the list includes 24 judges and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. The president has said he is prepared to choose a nominee from that list.

The new jurist, whomever that may be, will likely tip the scales in the favor of Conservative causes, particularly in regard to matters relating to hot-button issues such as abortion.

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POTUS’ SCOTUS: Trump eyes second Supreme Court pick as Justice Kennedy announces retirement

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, giving President Donald Trump a golden chance to cement conservative control of the nation’s highest court.

The 81-year-old Kennedy said in a statement he was stepping down after more than 30 years. A Republican appointee, he has held the key vote on such high-profile issues as abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, guns, campaign finance and voting rights.

Kennedy informed his colleagues of his plans, then went to the White House to meet with Trump, where the president said they talked for half an hour about a potential successor and other topics. The retirement will take effect at the end of July.

Trump praised Kennedy as a man of “tremendous vision” and said his search for a new justice would begin “immediately.”

Without Kennedy, the court will be split between four liberal justices who were appointed by Democratic presidents and four conservatives who were named by Republicans. Trump’s nominee, likely to give the conservatives a solid majority, will face a Senate confirmation process in which Republicans hold the slimmest majority but Democrats can’t prevent a vote.

The other two older justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, and Stephen Breyer, 79, are Democratic appointees who would not appear to be going anywhere during a Trump administration if they can help it.

Trump’s first high court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed in April 2017. If past practice is any indication, the president will name a nominee within weeks, setting in motion a process that could allow confirmation by the time the court reconvenes in early October.

Trump already has a list of 25 candidates — 24 judges and Utah Sen. Mike Lee — and has said he would choose a nominee from that list.

Abortion is likely to be one of the flash points in the nomination fight. Kennedy has mainly supported abortion rights in his time on the court, and Trump has made clear he would try to choose justices who want to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Such a dramatic ruling may not be immediately likely, but a more conservative court might be more willing to sustain abortion restrictions.

“If Donald Trump, who has promised to overturn Roe v. Wade, picks someone who is anti-choice, the future of Roe v. Wade is very much in question,” said David Cole, national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Interest groups across the political spectrum are expected to mobilize to support and fight the nomination because it is so likely to push the court to the right.

Republicans currently hold a bare 51-49 majority in the Senate, although that includes the ailing Sen. John McCain of Arizona. If Democrats stand united in opposition to Trump’s choice, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky can lose no more than one vote. If the Senate divides 50-50, Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie to confirm the nominee.

Prominent on the list of possible successors are Judges Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania and William Pryor of Alabama, who was seriously considered for the seat eventually filled by Gorsuch, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington.

Kavanaugh is a longtime Washington insider, having served as a law clerk to Kennedy and then as a key member of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s team that produced the report that served as the basis for President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In October, Kavanaugh dissented when his court ruled that a teenage migrant in federal custody should be able to obtain an abortion immediately.

Regardless of who replaces him, Kennedy’s departure will be a major change for the high court, where he has been the crucial swing vote for more than a decade. He has sided with the liberal justices on gay rights and abortion rights, as well as some cases involving race, the death penalty and the rights of people detained without charges at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. He has written all the court’s major gay-rights decisions, including the 2015 ruling that declared same-sex marriage is a constitutional right nationwide.

However, he also has been a key vote when conservatives have won major rulings on the outcome of the 2000 presidential election in favor of George W. Bush, on gun rights, limiting regulation of campaign money and gutting a key provision of the landmark federal Voting Rights Act.

There were no outward signs that Kennedy was getting ready to retire. He had hired his allotment of four law clerks for the term that begins in October and he is planning to spend part of the summer as he typically does, teaching a law school class in Salzburg, Austria.

But several former law clerks have said that Kennedy, a nominee of President Ronald Reagan, preferred to be replaced by a Republican. If he had waited, and if Democrats had taken control of the Senate in November, Trump could have found it more difficult to get his choice confirmed.

Few obstacles seem to stand in the way of confirming Kennedy’s replacement before the court reconvenes in October. Republicans changed the rules during Gorsuch’s confirmation to wipe out the main delaying tactic for Supreme Court nominees, the filibuster, and the need for 60 votes to defeat it.

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BREAKING: Supreme Court rules in favor of Christian baker who refused to make same-sex wedding cake; Masterpiece Cakeshop owner declares victory

Washington, D.C. – The Supreme Court ruled in favor Monday for a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, citing his Christian beliefs.

At the center of the high court arguments were Jack Phillips’ First Amendment claims of artistic freedom against the anti-discrimination arguments of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and the two men Phillips refused to provide services to in 2012.

Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, was previously found to have violated Colorado’s anti-discrimination law over his refusal to service the event. Through his lawyers, Phillips argued to the Supreme Court that he’s an artist who should not be compelled to create a cake that contradicts his religious views.

The justices, by a 7-2 decision, faulted the Colorado Civil Rights Commission’s handling of the claims brought against Phillips, saying it had showed a hostility to his Christian religion. In doing so, the court ruled the commission violated his religious rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor were alone in their dissent.

“The commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote of his ruling, referring to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market,” Kennedy said.

The closely watched case before the Supreme Court, which in 2015 legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, sparked debate over gay rights versus religious liberty.

Prior to the court’s ruling, President Donald Trump vocalized his support of Phillips and the sanctity of religious beliefs.

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POTUS EYES SCOTUS: Trump watches Supreme Court as rumors of Kennedy retirement swirl; Vacant seat could shift Court’s move to the right

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump received some welcome news Monday as rumors began circulating that Justice Anthony Kennedy may retire.

Kennedy, who’s leaned left since his appointment in 1988, has long held the decisive vote in many of the Supreme Court’s most significant and contested cases. His exit, say legal analysts, may be just what the Trump administration needs to turn the court right.

If Kennedy should choose to vacate his seat, says Artemus Ward, author of “Deciding to Leave: The Politics of Retirement From the United States Supreme Court,” time is of the essence. And Kennedy knows that Trump, as well as the president’s rivals, are surely awaiting his decision with bated breath.

“It’s now or never,” Ward told the New York Times on Monday (https://tinyurl.com/y9dn8drq). “It’s either this year or you wait until the next election.”

Working in Trump’s favor, said The Times, is a 2010 study by University of Chicago demographer Ross Stolzenberg and Northwestern Law professor James Lindgren, which found that justices tend to retire early in president’s terms.

“If the incumbent president is of the same party as the president who nominated the justice to the court, and if the incumbent president is in the first two years of a four-year presidential term,” the study reads, “then the justice has odds of resignation that are about 2.6 times higher than when these two conditions are not met.”

Legal analyst Christine Chabot of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, who authored the study, says Trump is likely waiting in the wings with a staunch Conservative to replace Kennedy.

However, Chabot warns that Trump shouldn’t get too cocky too fast. Stepping down, she says, is difficult for Justices.

“Retirement from the court is very costly for a justice,” she wrote, “as he or she must permanently give up what is often an immensely personally rewarding position as well as the most powerful judicial office in the United States.”

Also, Chabot pointed out, Kennedy recently hired on a new batch law clerks who are scheduled to begin their roles in October, which would seem to indicate he plans on staying put.

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