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Senator: There's a 'Very Real' Possibility Justice Kennedy is About to Retire, and I'm Told He Wants to Be Replaced By a Republican

We've been writing about the possibility of a looming Supreme Court vacancy for some time now, having been informed by a very well-placed source last spring that Justice Anthony Kennedy was on the brink of retirement. Here we are more than a year later, and those rumors have only gained steam -- with the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee going so far as to urge Kennedy to get on with it and announce his intentions as soon as possible.  Among the members of the Senate who are most plugged into the goings on of the Supreme Court --  out of both professional and family pedigree -- is Utah's Mike Lee, who also happens to be on President Trump's SCOTUS short list.  Sen. Lee joined Benson & Harf last evening to discuss an array of topics, but his intriguing and thorough answer to my question about the Court piqued my interest.  Skip ahead to the six minute mark for that piece of the exchange:

GB: What are you hearing, with your ear to the ground, about what may or may not happen with Justice Kennedy -- if you're willing to comment on that?  And if you believe that there might be a vacancy forthcoming, what's the mood among your Republican colleagues in the Senate about the urgency about moving forward with a confirmation process prior to the election?

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT):  Great question.  I have, uh, no conclusive evidence one way or another as to what's going to happen.  There is a lot of chatter suggesting that Justice Kennedy might be preparing for retirement as soon as this year...Sometime between now and the end of June or first day or two of July would be when we would expect an announcement from Justice Kennedy if he were going to do it. What I am hearing is that he is at least considering it and that it's a very real possibility. What I also heard is that having been appointed by President Reagan back in the late 1980's, he considers himself a Republican and with all things being equal would prefer to be replaced by a Republican President. As to the part of your question about how question it would be to move right toward it: There's nothing more important that we could be doing other than that...It should be something that we jump right onto and something we certainly should complete before we get into the election cycle...nobody knows what's going to happen in that election, and if President Trump ends up having the chance to nominate someone to the Supreme Court, we need to get that nominee confirmed.

Believe it or not, much like President Trump and Sen. McConnell's drumbeat of lower court confirmations, the prospect of a massive SCOTUS fight breaking out just a few months before a contested election has largely flown under the radar amid a seemingly endless parade of wild news cycles. But it could be a gamechanger, in both the short term (electorally) and the long term (in terms of jurisprudence).  As for those upcoming midterms, listen to our interview with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), who touted the House GOP's welfare reform plan and responded to speculation that some members of the conference are plotting a political 'coup' against Speaker Paul Ryan prior to the planned conclusion of his term:

And since we've touched on the subject of the national political climate, with economic optimism rising and November on the horizon, I'll leave you with this:

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