Hank’s View: Political implications of Kennedy’s replacement

Pundits and political partisans of every stripe are awash in high feeling and commentary about the implications of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Candidates with imminent elections, like Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill, are said by detractors to have been dealt a body blow. Much is made of McCaskill’s “tight spot” as she tries to maneuver between ardent supporters who might denounce a vote to confirm anyone nominated by President Trump and those who will criticize a vote against a Trump nominee as merely the knee-jerk reaction of a left-wing devotee who should be thrown out of office.

But these are the predictable reactions we should expect from partisans whose votes for or against McCaskill are not about to be affected one way or the other. For the rest of her potential constituency the debate in the Senate over Kennedy’s successor is not likely to make a difference. Largely because of the aforementioned fixation of the polar votes on both sides and even more, one hopes, because many Missouri voters will be more thoughtful about the implications of the senatorial election.

Despite the worst assumptions of ardent Democrats, Kennedy has not been a sure vote for their cherished liberal issues. It’s by no means clear that his successor will solidify a conservative majority on the court, as my liberal friends fear.

Likewise, my conservative friends should not celebrate yet. The next justice may or may not move the court so noticeably in their direction. Arriving members of the court have a way of confounding the expectations of their nominators and the flag-wavers in the streets cheering a new day. A nominee likely to gain sufficient support in a closely-divided Senate will have a longer, deeper view of his or her role on the high court, not least the powerful tradition of honoring long held past decisions upholding a woman’s right to choose abortion or the right of all citizens to equal access to public education.

During the run-up to the next appointment we will hear a lot about threats to Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education. Anyone who is overtly for repeal of either will have no chance for confirmation, and later on, most justices will not want to be counted on that side. A lot of political water will have to flow before the nation or the court is ready for that kind of philosophical reversion.

We ought to be concerned about the quality of the next Supreme Court Justice for longer-term considerations of intelligence and attention to the importance of precedent and supposed intent of the “founders” who wrote the Constitution. Original intent is a worthy criterion, but precedent is much more tangible and of the moment.

Fervent worriers will make much of any little shift one way or the other, but thankfully the high court seems destined for continuing decisions within the parameters of the broad center. Facing a narrowly split Senate, President Trump is doing his best to nominate credible candidates who will receive confirmation. Senators like McCaskill will find someone credible to confirm. My liberal friends need to start breathing again.

This article provided by NewsEdge.