By Myrna Moreno
After Anthony Kennedy announced in June that he was retiring from the Supreme Court, President Donald Trump made good on his promise to appoint a justice who would uphold conservative values, nominating D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Republicans are thrilled with the opportunity to appoint another conservative justice to the highest court; Democrats, meanwhile, are fearful that Kennedy’s replacement would lean further to the right. But Princeton University politics professors Charles Cameron and Keith Whittington say they do not expect much to change with Kavanaugh on the court.
“The shift in the median is very tiny,” Cameron said. Like four other justices on the court, Kavanaugh is a conservative, originalist judge. Whittington agreed: Observers should not expect huge changes, he said, because the court is exchanging a conservative for another conservative.
Although Kennedy was appointed by a Republican president, he sometimes diverged from the court’s conservative wing, becoming a crucial swing vote. He voted with liberal justices on cases about gay rights, abortion, the death penalty and affirmative action.
Kavanaugh, 53, is more reliably conservative, which means that there will likely be more conservative court decisions. Liberals fear his confirmation could change the balance of the court—tilting it even further to the right—for a generation.
But Whittington said things won’t change too much. Kavanaugh, he said, is very careful with cases that are very controversial, taking “small steps rather than big steps.”
Because conservatives will continue to dominate the Supreme Court, abortion-rights supporters are concerned that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that cemented a woman’s right to get an abortion, might be overturned. Both Cameron and Whittington predict the court will never completely overturn Roe v. Wade, but they both concede the conservative justices could chip away at abortion rights in other ways. Cameron believes that the court might allow greater restrictions on abortion, while Whittington said the justices could undermine the ruling by “nibbling away on the margins.”
Ultimately, Cameron said he doesn’t “think Trump gives a damn about the Supreme Court,” crediting the Federalist Society, which grooms reliably conservative judges and pushes for their installation on the court, with his selection.
Cameron said Kavanaugh is thoughtful, humorous, and articulate. But politically, his appointment fulfills a major conservative priority.
“Kavanaugh,” he said, “is the perfect candidate for Republicans.”