The U.S. Supreme Court, June 1, 2017. Seated, from left to right: Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony M. Kennedy, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer. Standing, from left to right: Justices Eleana Kagan, Samuel A. Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Neil M. Gorsuch. Photograph by Franz Jantzen, Supreme Court Curator’s Office.
U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his decision to retire from the Supreme Court after 30 years, effective July 31, giving President Trump the chance to nominate a second Justice to the highest court in the land. The question is, what does this mean for Second Amendment supporters? The simple answer is that it’s too early to tell.
Anthony Kennedy’s Swing Vote
Generally thought to be a conservative, Kennedy was seen as the crucial swing vote on a Supreme Court also comprised of four liberal-leaning (Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor) and four conservative-leaning (John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch) Justices.
As the Huffington Post notes, Kennedy sided with the majority in 2008’s D.C. v. Heller, and 2010’s McDonald v. City of Chicago, two landmark cases that struck down bans on handgun possession in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, respectively. The court hasn’t ruled on a Second Amendment case since the McDonald decision in 2010, declining to look at cases that restrict gun rights in states such as Maryland, New York, New Jersey and California.
The general belief is that the Supreme Court has stayed away from Second Amendment cases since 2010 because nobody could be sure which way Kennedy would vote. With Kennedy’s impending retirement, that concern could be a thing of the past. Trump now has the opportunity to nominate somebody who would vote solidly in favor of gun rights and the Second Amendment. A clearer picture of 2A implications won’t emerge, however, until we know who Trump nominates. Trump’s current list of U.S. Supreme Court candidates can be seen here.
President Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch to succeed the late Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. Gorsuch took the oath of office on April 10, 2017.
Kennedy was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1987. He took the oath of office on February 18, 1988. According to the New York Times, Kennedy hand-delivered his resignation letter to President Trump on Wednesday afternoon. Read it in full below.
My dear Mr. President,
This letter is a respectful and formal notification of my decision, effective July 31 of this year, to end my regular active status as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, while continuing to serve in a senior status, as provided in 28 U.S.C 371 (b).
For a member of the legal profession it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court. Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret, and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises.
Respectfully and sincerely,
Anthony M. Kennedy
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