Supreme Court shakeup looms as Kennedy retires

The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy gives President Trump the chance to shape the highest court in his image for a generation to come. CNN's Abby Phillip reports.

Posted: Jun 28, 2018 11:56 PM
Updated: Jun 28, 2018 11:56 PM

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement Wednesday, and almost immediately the US Senate was launched into the national spotlight as it's the legislative body that will formally confirm whoever the next justice will be.

Here's what you need to know:

When will the confirmation process happen?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said a vote will happen this fall. They're not waiting until after the midterms, despite the fact that the Kentucky Republican waited for 2016 to end before holding a confirmation vote on the seat vacated by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Why won't he wait?

Republicans see this as an entirely different situation. This vacancy is happening in the middle of the President's first-term, not at the end of a President's second term.

"These aren't the final months of a second-term constitutionally lame duck presidency with a presidential election fast approaching," McConnell said on the floor Thursday morning.

"Not gonna happen," said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber. "We'll have the same President," so the comparison to the transition from Obama to Trump doesn't work, he added.

When pressed on how the Senate could look different because of the midterms, Cornyn pushed back. "Yes and the Earth could end tomorrow," he said. "It's not a good excuse for not doing our work."

Democrats are obviously livid about this, but, much to their chagrin, there's nothing they can do.

The math

The current breakdown in the Senate is 51 Republicans to 49 Democrats. With Arizona Republica Sen. John McCain out, that brings it down to 50-49, which means Republicans can't afford to lose a single vote.

If any Democrats decide to vote with them, only then could Republicans afford to start losing some of their own.

But what about a filibuster?

That doesn't matter anymore. During the Gorsuch confirmation, Republicans weren't getting enough Democrats to side with them and get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. So McConnell decided to go nuclear and change the rules so that Supreme Court nominees needed 50 votes.

It was a huge deal at the time -- and still is -- but it was also seen as a retaliatory move, since Democrats had done the same thing a few years earlier with other executive branch nominees.

Whom to watch

On the Republican side, all eyes are on moderates Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. We've already seen the power they can have in derailing GOP efforts, like when they helped take down a major health care vote last year, with McCain at their side.

Murkowski and Collins both support abortion rights, so if Roe v. Wade becomes a big issue in this confirmation battle, that could turn the two of them off.

Collins said Wednesday it was her "preference" to nominate someone like Kennedy, who was a swing vote on the high court.

"One of the things I most admire about him is that he did not view cases through an ideological lens but rather based on the law, the merits and the Constitution," Murkowski said.

That brings us to another point: Like Collins said, many senators, especially Democrats, will be looking for a nominee who falls more in the middle in the ideological spectrum to replace Kennedy, since that is the role he played on the court as a key swing vote. Gorsuch was replacing Scalia, a conservative justice, so it wasn't such a big deal that Gorsuch was considered conservative. Picking a conservative to replace Kennedy could solidify the court as a right-leaning body for years to come.

Whom to watch, part 2

If Collins and Murkowski start to fade, all eyes will be on Democrats from red states who are up for re-election this year and facing enormous pressure back home. It could help them immensely for Trump to pick a more moderate nominee, but if he goes with a hardline conservative or a wild card, that would make it really tough for these Dems to sign on.

In the Gorsuch confirmation, three of these Democrats (Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana) supported Gorsuch, but there's no guarantee they'll back Trump's pick this time around.

Along with those three, it's also worth keeping an eye on seven other Democrats who are running for re-election in states that Trump won. They include:

  • Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri
  • Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida
  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan
  • Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio
  • Sen. Jon Tester of Montana

Of this group, GOP aides have their eyes primarily on McCaskill and Nelson, both of whom are tied in exceedingly tight races.

Conservative groups spent millions on ads lobbying these senators to back Gorsuch last year, but only Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly ultimately backed him.

But, as we mentioned before, this is now a court swinging, court defining pick. So several aides say it won't necessarily be viewed through the same vein Gorsuch was, when it was a conservative filling a conservative seat. So the pressure wasn't nearly as high on these red state Democrats.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1490496

Reported Deaths: 20500
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2039162521
Lake1001941500
Allen923541011
Hamilton72207547
St. Joseph64053755
Elkhart48903625
Vanderburgh47506523
Tippecanoe43182336
Johnson37906521
Hendricks35984459
Porter34277466
Madison28722537
Clark25552325
Vigo25251344
LaPorte23269307
Monroe22751244
Howard21818377
Delaware21391366
Hancock18487220
Bartholomew17860213
Kosciusko17769201
Warrick16642213
Wayne16062300
Floyd15640257
Grant15143296
Morgan14245231
Boone13388136
Noble11656140
Dearborn11560112
Henry11546201
Shelby11483150
Marshall11258167
Dubois11123152
Jackson10425104
Cass10121142
DeKalb10101129
Lawrence10082220
Huntington10016139
Gibson9415125
Montgomery9153141
Knox8942124
Harrison8874112
Whitley861871
Steuben8488104
Jasper8192114
Clinton810295
Putnam806199
Miami8032133
Jefferson7773124
Wabash7726139
Ripley7118112
Adams6595101
Daviess6455127
Scott638586
White613282
Greene5999112
Clay597573
Wells5902120
Decatur5885119
Jennings586278
Fayette5735121
Posey543448
LaGrange524197
Randolph5027129
Washington494368
Owen491499
Fountain472479
Spencer446556
Starke438686
Sullivan437465
Fulton431891
Orange420882
Jay409764
Rush403937
Carroll377549
Perry376755
Franklin375850
Vermillion352062
Parke319238
Pike316245
Tipton313774
Blackford271755
Pulaski270874
Newton231561
Brown226754
Benton215721
Crawford215131
Switzerland194214
Martin186722
Warren174821
Union165519
Ohio122616
Unassigned0739

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2439205

Reported Deaths: 31245
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2637212065
Cuyahoga2582743018
Hamilton1696091714
Montgomery1126771604
Summit1074271391
Lucas909371160
Butler80397942
Stark754911400
Lorain63313792
Warren51040475
Mahoning50162915
Lake47051605
Clermont44631429
Delaware39611212
Trumbull38910755
Medina37850419
Licking37593408
Fairfield34482334
Greene32823422
Portage31698360
Clark30769445
Richland28751423
Wood28217297
Allen24942395
Miami23274395
Muskingum22683245
Columbiana22370403
Wayne21565356
Tuscarawas19096427
Erie18282222
Ashtabula18102342
Marion17861232
Scioto17031207
Ross16556252
Pickaway15812178
Hancock15561228
Geauga15320223
Lawrence14172186
Union1359984
Huron13584182
Belmont13554247
Jefferson13090258
Sandusky12933199
Athens12126106
Knox11721198
Seneca11631200
Darke10950198
Ashland10916178
Washington10729168
Auglaize10364142
Crawford10062175
Shelby9961157
Brown9610140
Fulton9453150
Guernsey9304117
Highland9215148
Defiance9209135
Logan9114142
Clinton8950127
Mercer8816111
Madison8730106
Preble8145162
Williams8014135
Putnam7863135
Ottawa7752121
Champaign7696112
Jackson7510117
Perry725998
Coshocton7137136
Morrow706382
Fayette678287
Pike632586
Hardin6311128
Gallia605891
Adams5913124
Van Wert5877121
Henry577093
Hocking5634104
Carroll4877100
Wyandot487590
Holmes4787161
Paulding409064
Meigs380473
Monroe303368
Noble285051
Harrison284461
Morgan280348
Vinton245145
Unassigned08
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