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Justice Kennedy to Retire -- Again?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 29, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Remember when you were a kid, waking up before sunrise to see if Santa Claus had done his job yet?

You probably checked several times throughout the night before the moment finally came. And it did, of course, because Santa Claus was real -- at least until you got older.

So it is with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Every kid in the press corps has been checking like clockwork to see if he's there yet, and the rumors keep coming.

Coming to Town

Of course, it is the news business to report on significant developments at the U.S. Supreme Court. The end of the session, for example, produced important decisions that will affect millions of Americans -- not to mention foreigners and fictitious entities.

But was it really news that Kennedy had summoned dozens of his former law clerks to Washington over the weekend? Ed Kilgore, writing for th eDaily Intelligencer, said the "biggest news was the story that did not break: a much-rumored retirement announcement."

CNN had stoked the fire before the last day of the session, reiterating rumors that had swirled around the 80-year-old Justice for months. Kennedy played along at the law clerk reunion, saying he had heard some speculation about an announcement.

"And here it is," he said. "The bar will be open after dinner."

Next Session

There is no rule that a Supreme Court justice must retire at any particular time -- it's a lifetime appointment. But Court watchers, taking the pulse of political and judicial bodies, find symmetry in certain things.

Kennedy is the longest-tenured member of the Court; his retirement will assure another conservative appointee; he turns 81 in July.

Insiders saw more signs last year, when Kennedy changed his schedule. He didn't teach in the summer; he stopped his clerk hiring process; he planned the law clerk reunion in an odd year -- not in the traditional cycle.

David Lat, founder of Above the Law, debunked those rumors then. For example, he said the law clerks wanted the reunion to mark Kennedy's 80th birthday -- not his retirement day.

At least there were presents.

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