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On Monday, April 10, Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the next associate Supreme Court justice, filling the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia which remained vacant for the past 422 days. ISCOTUSnow described the swearing-in ceremonies in the Week Ahead post here.
During the second ceremony, Gorsuch was sworn in by Justice Kennedy, for whom Gorsuch clerked in 1993. As Julie Hirschfield Davis of the New York Times notes, this is the first time in Supreme Court history that a sitting justice will serve alongside a justice who had previously served as his clerk, noting that “Justice Kennedy’s presence was symbolic personally for Justice Gorsuch” as he considers him a mentor. In an article for CNN, Joan Biskupic speculates as to when Justice Kennedy might retire, mentioning that he has privately hinted to close friends and former law clerks that he intends to retire in the next few years. Kennedy, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, is a center-right justice who has joined the liberal voting bloc in several high-profile cases, including Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that legalized same-sex marriage and for which Kennedy penned the majority opinion. His departure from the Court would, as Biskupic describes, “be more momentous than the one filled on Monday after the February 13, 2016 death of rigid conservative Scalia. If President Donald Trump were to choose someone on the right-wing like Gorsuch to succeed Kennedy, the nation’s highest court would become significantly more conservative.”
Seung Min Kim of Politico addresses the fallout of the “nuclear option” triggered by Senate Republicans to secure Gorsuch’s confirmation. Kim quotes Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass), who vowed to restore the 60-vote threshold formerly needed to break a filibuster on confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees should Democrats relinquish control of the Senate: “We will ensure that for the Supreme Court, there is that special margin that any candidate has to reach because that is essential to ensuring that our country has a confidence in those people who are nominated. Rather than just someone who passes a litmus test.” Kim suggests, however, that “[i]f history is any guide, Democrats are unlikely to actually revive that 60-vote threshold, particularly if they also win the White House along with the Senate majority [in 2020]. Though Republicans were enraged after Senate Democrats deployed the nuclear option in 2013 for all nominations other than the Supreme Court, the GOP chose to keep the lower threshold for nominees when they retook the Senate majority in 2014.”
On Wednesday, Terry Gross, in a segment of Fresh Air on NPR, discussed Leonard Leo, a conservative lawyer who has had extensive involvement in the selection of Justices Roberts, Alito, and Gorsuch. Gross interviewed Jeffrey Toobin, who profiled Leo in a recent article for the New Yorker titled “The Conservative Pipeline to the Supreme Court.” Leo is the executive vice- president of the Federalist Society, a nationwide organization of conservative lawyers that has been “very engaged in identifying and recruiting for judges candidates who are ultra-conservatives.” Toobin argues that “Gorsuch is likely to be only the first of Leo’s Trump Administration appointees: he is preparing for yet more vacancies on the Supreme Court, and also finding candidates for some of the hundred-plus vacancies on the lower courts, deepening his imprint on the judiciary.”