In nominating Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Donald Trump was likely sending a signal to Justice Anthony Kennedy that it would be safe to retire, The New York Times reports.
The selection of Gorsuch has the potential to demonstrate to Kennedy, 80, that if her chooses to step down, his replacement would be someone similar to Gorsuch and not a nominee "so inflammatory or outside the mainstream as to be unacceptable," according to the newspaper.
The Times noted that Gorsuch, who is considered more conservative than Kennedy, once clerked for the justice, who greatly respects him.
Former clerks to Kennedy expressed doubt whether Gorsuch's nomination would be the key factor in deciding whether he will retire, the Times said. But the paper added Kennedy has shown signs he is considering retirement at some point.
"I'm sure they would dearly love to see him step down soon," said Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general, told The Times. "But he would like to be replaced by a moderate."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he believed the Gorsuch nomination would help reassure Kennedy that the court would be in good hands in the future.
"I think Justice Kennedy will really enjoy serving with him, because he knows him well," Sen. Hatch said, adding, "He might feel like it's time to retire, too, because he's talked about that a few times."
But others expressed doubt that Kennedy would feel comfortable being replaced by a Trump nominee.
"It's hard for me to believe that an old-fashioned gentleman like Justice Kennedy would be impressed with Donald Trump's vulgarity and the way he behaves," said Daniel Epps, a former clerk for Kennedy.
The Washington Post reported Kennedy's vote on the court is key to whether liberal or conservative members prevail.
"That is why an undercurrent of Trump's first choice for the court was whether it would soothe Kennedy, making him feel secure enough to retire and let this president choose the person who would succeed him," the Post said.
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