There are ways to drop hints with nuance and grace, and then there’s … Chuck Grassley’s bat-signal to Anthony Kennedy. In an interview this morning with Hugh Hewitt, the Senate Judiciary chair allowed how much easier his job would be if any Supreme Court justices considering retirement would give him a heads-up. ASAP would be nice, if not “yesterday,” Grassley said:
HH: You are also responsible for it, you and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are the hardest-working senators there. And I want to go through the Judiciary Committee record. Congratulations on it. I am genuinely impressed. Are you prepping for a Supreme Court vacancy this summer, Chairman Grassley?
CG: Hugh, it doesn’t do any good to prep for that stuff. I just hope that if there is going to be a nominee, I hope it’s now or within two or three weeks, because we’ve got to get this done before the election, and there’s generally about 50, 60, 70 days between the time a president nominates somebody and we get a hearing in committee, and then another two weeks before it gets to the floor. And this has to be done before the November election. So my message to any one of the 9 Supreme Court justices, if you’re thinking about quitting this year, do it yesterday.
Just in case anyone doubts who the intended recipient might be, Hugh circles back around to it later in the segment:
HH: So I want to go back and conclude by what we talked about the Supreme Court. You need them to declare their intent to resign, not to actually resign, correct? Is that what you were saying? If a Supreme Court member is going to step down, you need them to declare their intent to resign yesterday, I think you say…
HH: …in order to be ready to go?
CG: Yeah, particularly if they were one of the five that we call conservative.
I’m pretty sure he’s not talking about John Roberts or Neil Gorsuch here. Republicans have hinted that they expect Kennedy to retire soon, either at the end of this term or the next, and they’re not just speculating for the fun of it. They want to put the potential for a confirmation fight in the minds of GOP voters, and especially Trump fans, to remind them how important it is to cast ballots in November’s midterms. What happens if Trump has to pick a new Supreme Court justice and has to consult with Chuck Schumer instead of Chuck Grassley? Welcome to Souterville instead of MAGAtown, folks.
In order to make a real impression, Republican candidates and committees can’t afford any nuance or subtlety. One has to wonder, though, why Grassley’s getting so blunt about it. As Judiciary chair, he can afford to keep himself a little arms-length from this kind of campaigning and avoid the perception that he’s dragging the swing-vote justice out of the Supreme Court by his ankles. Without a doubt, having a confirmation in process this summer will help boost Republican interest in the midterms, but Kennedy might resent being used by the chair of the Judiciary Committee as a campaign prop — perhaps enough to stick around another year or two.
The court’s term ends in about six weeks or so, which means that Grassley’s unlikely to get his heads-up any sooner than that on potential retirements. The court won’t return until the first Monday in October, about a month before the midterms. Wouldn’t that be better timing for a retirement insofar as GOP midterm turnout hopes go — making the issue acute just as voters decide whether to go to the polls?