Supreme Court speculation season is kicking into high gear.
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt told listeners Wednesday morning that according to his sources, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is considering retirement.
This came on the heels of a Washington Post report that said Justice Clarence Thomas “is privately seen by Trump’s aides as the most likely to retire this year,” though he’s given no indication of doing so.
Hewitt mentioned the Alito rumor on his show while talking to the author of that article, Robert Costa, who also had written about conservatives’ disappointment with decisions where Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberal justices. Costa noted that President Trump and Vice President Pence have cited the recent cases as proof that more conservative justices are needed, as he discussed rumors of possible contenders should Thomas step down.
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“The stronger rumor is that Justice Alito is going to quit. Justice Thomas will never quit,” Hewitt countered.
Alito is 70, so if he retires he could be replaced with a much younger justice who would theoretically have decades on the court ahead.
But it is not clear whether the rumor is just that.
Any imminent retirement would be risky for conservatives in the election year. If the current GOP-controlled Senate could not push through a replacement for any vacancy in time, it runs the risk for Republicans that the next nominee would be selected by a Democrat, if Joe Biden were to win the presidency. Further, Senate Republicans are far from guaranteed to hold the majority in the chamber next year.
Costa’s report did note how the White House and Republicans in the Senate are supposedly gearing up for a possible Supreme Court vacancy, but that was in reference to speculation that Thomas may step down.
One outside political adviser to Trump reportedly told Costa that if an opening were to emerge, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would be ready to act swiftly to get the nominee confirmed. A favorite of his supposedly is 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amul Thapar, who previously served as a federal district judge and U.S. attorney in McConnell’s home state.
Hewitt also named several possible replacements for Alito, including 6th Circuit Judge Raymond Kethledge, who had been considered a strong candidate in the past.
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The sense of urgency for a new conservative justice has come after Roberts sided with liberal justices in recent cases that ensured protection from employment discrimination to the LGBT community, rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to rescind DACA, and struck down a Louisiana law that restricted abortion by only allowing people with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital to perform the procedure.
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Roberts did side with conservatives on Tuesday, when he authored the opinion in a 5-4 decision that allowed religious institutions in Montana to participate in a scholarship program for private schools.