Republican president who is eager to build a clear, conservative majority on the United States supreme court – and too sure of his political ground – overreaches. He picks a rightwing zealot for the open seat created by the retirement of a justice. At stake in the subsequent political battle over his nomination is the constitutional right of American women to have an abortion.
This was the Washington drama that unfolded in 1987 – when the president was Ronald Reagan, and his supreme court nominee was the controversial Robert Bork. Over a quarter of a century later, history is about to repeat itself in the latest crucial political test of the Donald Trump era.
Anthony Kennedy, who this week announced his retirement as a justice of the supreme court, was a decent man. His decisions upholding gay rights and legalising gay marriage will earn him a deserved place in history. Although some of his votes on abortion cases were bad, at the most pivotal moment – in a watershed 1992 decision – he voted to uphold the Roe v Wade supreme court decision to safeguard a woman’s right to an abortion. Granted, Kennedy’s votes in this latest term were consistently awful and solidly conservative, but there were other crucial moments when he was the swing vote and chose to uphold human rights and decency. His replacement, if Trump gets his way, will have none of those moderating tendencies.
Already Trump’s first court pick, Neil Gorsuch, has formed an unholy alliance with the most rightwing justice, Clarence Thomas. The White House will now be hoping that this dynamic duo can become a trio. It’s amazing to think that John Roberts, the conservative chief justice, could actually be the moderating force on the supreme court.