This item in the Washington Examiner touched off a brief spate of panic among right-leaning Court watchers late yesterday, as conservatives contemplated the potential ramifications of another SCOTUS vacancy arising upon the departure of a reliably conservative justice. Antonin Scalia's death earlier this year was a serious blow that underscored the stakes of the fall election. Could it possibly be true that Clarence Thomas is also eying the exits -- even with the Democrats favored to retain the White House at this point in the race?
Justice Clarence Thomas, a reliable conservative vote on the Supreme Court, is mulling retirement after the presidential election, according to court watchers. Thomas, appointed by former President George H.W. Bush and approved by the Senate after a bitter confirmation, has been considering retirement for a while and never planned to stay until he died, they said. He likes to spend summers in his RV with his wife...Should Thomas leave, that slight majority would continue if Donald Trump becomes president. If it's Hillary Clinton, then she would get the chance to flip two Republican seats, giving the liberals a 6-3 majority.
This "insider information" struck me as speculative-to-unlikely, especially in light of Thomas' relative youth (he's 67) and his decision after Scalia's death to actively participate in oral arguments for the first time in years -- which many interpreted as a signal that he was seeking to help make up for the loss of Scalia's intellectual heft on the Court's right flank. With Washington holding its collective breath, the George H.W. Bush-appointed Justice's wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, took to Facebook and unequivocally doused the rumors:
For all those who are contacting me about the possibility of my husband retiring, I say -- unsubscribe from those false news sources and carry on with your busy lives. IT. IS. BOGUS! Paul Bedard needs to find a phone in his life and unnamed sources are worth as much as their transparency is. A funny close friend wrote me: "Next we'll hear that you and he have bought a small private island near Nevis, with a large satellite dish so that all the Nebraska college sports games won't be missed, and a large Green Egg that can slow cook the indigenous wild boar. Let us know when you are shipping off so we can all chip in to buy a suitable retirement present for your husband -- perhaps matching lounge chairs and umbrellas."
The High Court is currently in the midst of its annual ritual of releasing its much-anticipated rulings. Only eight justices are on the bench at the moment, as Senate Republicans have followed the Biden Rule and declined to hold hearings or votes on President Obama's lame duck nomination of Merrick Garland to replace Scalia, arguing that the next president should have that prerogative after the voters have spoken.