On Monday morning, even rumors about the possibility of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring sent the network morning shows into panic mode. Reporters wrung their hands over the potential that President Trump could replace the high court’s “swing vote” and make it “solidly conservative for decades.”
On NBC’s Today, Justice Correspondent Pete Williams described Kennedy as “the man in the middle” who “gutted the Voting Rights Act” when he sided with conservatives and “upheld abortion rights” when joining liberal decisions. Williams noted that “Conservatives like Ted Cruz have long dreamed of the day he’ll step down.”
In the discussion that followed minutes later, MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace warned: “Kennedy is the swing voter, which means he sides sometimes with the Democrats, so his vote is really important if you’re on the left or if you’re in the middle....it terrifies people in the middle and on the left because it has the potential to swing the Court in a different direction.”
In another report at the top of 8 a.m. ET hour, Williams fretted that Kennedy’s retirement “would allow President Trump to make the Court solidly conservative for decades.”
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On ABC’s Good Morning America, correspondent Terry Moran declared that any such announcement would be “huge” and promised “a war for this court like nothing seen in the past 30 years since the nomination of Robert Bork was defeated and Justice Kennedy took his seat.” Co-host George Stephanopoulos agreed: “Everything changes in Washington if he retires, it would be just seismic.”
At the top of the 8 a.m. ET hour, Moran reiterated: “If he does retire, and there are signs that he will, it’ll start a war for this Court like nothing this town has seen in decades.”
On CBS This Morning, correspondent Jan Crawford proclaimed: “But here’s the thing, he is a moderate conservative, so if he goes, that’s going to give President Trump a massive opportunity to move the Court further to the right for generations and Democrats would basically be powerless to stop it.”
After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016 and then-President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, the networks acknowledged the political battle that followed but routinely demanded that Republicans give up their opposition. The NBC, ABC, and CBS morning shows all predicted electoral doom for the GOP.
When Garland was nominated, the liberal media did the bidding of Democrats in trying to pressure Republicans to get on board. Now that Kennedy may step down at some point during the Trump administration, those same networks are suddenly eager for political “war.”
Here are excerpts of the June 26 coverage on all three morning shows:
7:09 AM ET
PETE WILLIAMS: And the Court’s last day comes with speculation about a retirement. This year, some friends of Justice Anthony Kennedy say he’s been thinking about it. He turns 81 in a month, after 29 years on the Supreme Court.
With four mostly conservative justices and four mostly liberal ones, Kennedy is often the decider, the man in the middle. Kennedy plus the conservatives loosened the reins on corporate money in campaigns, gutted the Voting Rights Act, and strengthened gun rights. Kennedy plus the liberals made same-sex marriage the law of the land, upheld abortion rights, and limited use of the death penalty. Conservatives like Ted Cruz have long dreamed of the day he’ll step down.
SEN. TED CRUZ [FEB. 23, 2017]: The next vacancy is where we have the ability to get back and restore our basic Constitutional protections.
WILLIAMS: Groups that helped the President with the Neil Gorsuch nomination say they doubt Justice Kennedy will retire this year. Some White House aides say they haven’t heard anything about it. The coming hours may provide the answer.
7:14 AM ET
HODA KOTB: Do we have time to talk about Anthony Kennedy?
MATT LAUER: Yeah, a real quick one.
KOTB: Real quick. Alright, so there are rumors that he – the Supreme Court judge may retire, maybe even announce it today. What kind of battle will there be to replace him? Describe what’ll happen.
NICOLLE WALLACE: Well, there were even some Democrats that thought that the fight over Neil Gorsuch was a wasted one because the real fight is the next one. Kennedy is the swing voter, which means he sides sometimes with the Democrats, so his vote is really important if you’re on the left or if you’re in the middle. And I’m hearing all the same rumors that Pete Williams is hearing. The thing that gives Kennedy backers some confidence that a resignation would be sound under this president is the comfort that all sort of conservatives feel about the caliber and quality of the man that Donald Trump already picked, Neil Gorsuch. But it terrifies people in the middle and on the left because it has the potential to swing the Court in a different direction.
LAUER: And yet, we’re all still reading tea leaves on this.
WALLACE: Yes, tea leaves is all we’ve got. That’s all we’ve got.
Good Morning America
7:11 AM ET
ROBIN ROBERTS: There’s growing speculation that Justice Kennedy could be announcing his retirement.
TERRY MORAN: Oh, this would be huge, Robin. Justice Kennedy – this in many ways is the Kennedy Court, he’s the swing vote for more than a decade on crucial issues, abortion, Affirmative Action, the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans, including marriage. He has been the crucial vote. If he decides to retire, and there are signs that he would, it would be a war for this court like nothing seen in the past 30 years since the nomination of Robert Bork was defeated and Justice Kennedy took his seat.
ROBERTS: That’s right.
ROBERTS: Alright, Terry, thank you.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Everything changes in Washington if he retires, it would be just seismic.
MORAN: And then the real buzz about Justice Anthony Kennedy. Will he retire? He’s been the crucial swing vote here for more than a decade. If he does retire, and there are signs that he will, it’ll start a war for this Court like nothing this town has seen in decades. Robin?
ROBERTS: Oh, goodness gracious, seismic, as you said earlier.
CBS This Morning
7:12 AM ET
CHARLIE ROSE: Jan, what about this talk that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the Supreme Court may retire, giving President Trump another opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice.
JAN CRAWFORD: Oh, Charlie, I mean, Justice Kennedy, I mean, he is widely expected to retire in the next year or two, but the question is when. He is 80 years old. He’s been considering retirement. But here’s the thing, he is a moderate conservative, so if he goes, that’s going to give President Trump a massive opportunity to move the Court further to the right for generations and Democrats would basically be powerless to stop it. That’s because they played all their cards trying to block Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed to replace Justice Scalia. And that led Senate Republicans to change the rules to end filibusters of Supreme Court nominations.
But you know, Justice Kennedy, I mean he’s always a difficult justice to predict, as we have seen, but here’s an interesting fact. On this day in 1987, Justice Lewis Powell retired, and you know who replaced him? Justice Anthony Kennedy.