President Donald Trump believes he will appoint three more Supreme Court justices before the end of his first term, according to a scoop by Axios.
If he is right, that would give Trump four nominations in all — the most in a single term by any president since Richard Nixon.
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Axios cited anonymous sources who have spoken with the president. Trump reportedly told aides that in addition to new Justice Neil Gorsuch, he expects to appoint replacements for Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor.
Kennedy, 81, long has been rumored to be considering retirement. Trump cited Ginsburg’s weight — “60 pounds?” — and Sotomayor’s diabetes, according to the report.
John Malcolm, vice president of the Institute for Constitutional Government at The Heritage Foundation, said he has no insight into the plans of current justices. But he added that the chances that Trump will have four appointments would increase if he gets a second term in office.
Malcolm noted that several justices already had passed the life expectancy of the average American. In addition to Kennedy, Ginsburg is 84 years old, and Justice Stephen Breyer — whom Trump did not name — is 79.
[lz_table title=”Reshaping the Court” source=””]Presidents with the most Supreme Court appointments
William Howard Taft,5
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“As an actuarial matter, if he serves two terms, the odds are he will be replacing some of them,” he said.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, said the timing of judicial retirements is impossible to predict. But she said it seems likely that Trump is not finished reshaping the high court.
“We’ve been saying for some time that it would be very easy for this presidency to have three vacancies,” said Severino, whose organization has lobbied for the confirmation of Trump’s nominees. “How many, nobody knows.”
If Trump does get four picks, it could transform the court for decades. Kennedy is a moderately conservative justice who sometimes sides with the liberal wing. A more consistently conservative replacement combined with conservative replacements for two of the liberal justices would give conservatives a majority for a long time.
Severino said the prospect of filling the vacancy created by last year’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia played a huge role in the 2016 election.
“Every Supreme Court justice has a generational impact … It would be great to have two, three, four more Gorsuches on the court,” she said.
Progressives — and undoubtedly the justices themselves — are well aware of those dynamics. Before his death, Scalia was frank in acknowledging that he would not want a successor who would try to dismantle his legacy on the court.
Current liberal justices likely will consider the occupant of the White House when making retirement plans, Malcolm said. He pointed out that Ginsburg has publicly disparaged Trump and expressed disbelief that he won the election.
“She’s made that quite well-known,” he said.
There is another factor, Malcolm said. Supreme Court justices are among the most powerful public figures in the United States and often are reluctant to give that up.
“I do think that is a pretty good job,” he said.
(photo credit, homepage images: Sonia Sotomayor…, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore / Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, CC BY-SA 2.0, by European University Institute ; photo credit, article images: Sonia Sotomayor, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)