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- Justice Anthony Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court — until July 31.
His decision to step down comes mere weeks after the decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding reception; a day after the Supreme Court upheld President Donald Trump’s Islamophobic travel ban; and the same day the Supreme Court struck a blow against labor unions.
Kennedy, though appointed by Ronald Reagan, has proven to be a fair moderate, and has consistently voted in favor of gay rights. He's written the Court's opinions on all four of the biggest cases affecting the rights of LGBTQ people, and his vote has often been a tiebreaker on an otherwise fairly evenly split panel. His choice to leave now, before midterm elections in November, leaves many progressives and LGBTQ advocates staring blank-eyed at our computer screens, numbly drinking cups of coffee that went cold hours ago, envisioning the generations of vulnerable American citizens who will be affected by whomever President Donald Trump — Donald Trump — decides to toss into Kennedy's vacant chair.
Trump promises to appoint “somebody who will be just as outstanding” as Justice Kennedy, but we all know by now that the president’s definition of “outstanding” doesn’t always match the majority's. It’s a fair bet that any judge he may appoint to the position will be a hard-line conservative, and with a Republican majority in the Senate (which must confirm Trump’s appointment), he’ll likely get what he wants. Whoever he wants.
Of course, let's not forget that in 2016 Republicans blocked President Barack Obama from appointing someone to fill the spot left by the late Antonin Scalia, instead allowing Trump to appoint conservative Neil Gorsch to the Supreme Court as one of his first acts as president.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, certainly hasn’t forgotten that. He’s said that for Republicans to appoint a Supreme Court Justice before the midterm elections would be blatant hypocrisy, considering their primary reason for delaying Obama’s nomination was due to the fact that it was an election year.
Which brings us to the big takeaway from Kennedy’s retirement. Listen, the man is 81 years old. We can't stop him from retiring. But there is something we can do. 2018 is also an election year. We have the right, and the obligation, to ensure that Republicans no longer hold the majority in the legislative branch of our government. If we can flip a few seats, and if we can delay the confirmation of a conservative Justice until then, then we may be able to make a difference.
President Trump would appoint a Justice who could help other Supreme Court conservatives roll back key decisions on matters of abortion and LGBTQ rights. President Trump would appoint a Justice who could vote a hard-line conservative agenda on matters of gun control and women's rights, and win. President Trump would appoint a Justice who could serve on the Supreme Court for decades, influencing every major legal decision for a generation — if not more.
We can't just stand by and let him do it. Whether or not we feel a paralysis of fear or disillusionment with our government and election process. Whether or not we think the whole system should be tossed out, burned down and created anew. This is what we have to work with right now, and too much hangs in the balance to pretend otherwise.
So for the love of god, register to vote, and show up for the elections in November. This isn’t just a matter of the next two years. It's America's whole future on the line.