MSNBC host Rachel Maddow had something of a meltdown during an appearance Wednesday, voicing her utter terror at President Trump appointing a second Supreme Court justice. News broke yesterday that Justice Anthony Kennedy would be retiring from his position effective July 31. Kennedy’s retirement means Trump will be able to solidify a conservative majority in the highest court after appointing staunch originalist Justice Neil Gorsuch last year.
During his distinguished career, Kennedy has regularly sided with abortion rights advocates, despite self-identifying as a conservative. The Supreme Court has often been dubbed the “Kennedy Court” due to the number of times he has held the tie-breaking vote. Indeed, it was Kennedy who cast the decisive vote in the landmark 1992 case that affirmed Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion legal nationwide.
With Kennedy’s swing vote no longer in play, Trump is predicted to nominate another pro-life justice who could radically change the face of abortion law in the United States. This is the point that Maddow picked up on, albeit with a heavy dose of sensationalism.
“I mean, this moment would have happened under a normal Republican president. The fact that it has happened under Trump puts a different cast on it,” she said, lamenting Kennedy’s decision to retire. “Democrats and progressives and centrists will be focused on the fact that Anthony Kennedy is probably the reason we have abortion rights in this country,”
She added: “I think within a year abortion will be illegal in half of the United States.”
While pro-life campaigns relish the potential opportunity to reverse Roe v. Wade, the likelihood is that abortion will, on a state-by-state basis, become more heavily restricted, but will remain legal.
“Chief Justice John Roberts has supported greater regulation of abortion, yet he has constantly referred to the court’s regard for precedent and fights its image as a political institution,” noted Joan Biskupic at CNN. “It is possible a new conservative majority would trim the right to an abortion — for example with more restrictions on physicians, clinics and the timing of a termination – rather than reverse Roe altogether.”
But that hasn’t stopped abortion advocates and providers from issuing dire and ominous warnings. The significance of today’s news cannot be overstated: The right to access abortion in this country is on the line,” Planned Parenthood wrote in a statement on Kennedy’s retirement.
The organization, that conducts over 300,000 abortions a year, continued:
“With this vacancy, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell hold the balance of the court in their hands — and with it, the legal right to access abortion in this country. President Trump has promised to only appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. The idea of Trump having his choice to fill another vacancy is terrifying for not only abortion rights, but for our ability to live free from discrimination in this country.”
Democrats will continue to reel from Justice Kennedy’s momentous decision to hang up his robe and will do everything they possibly can to slow the appointment of another originalist justice who is determined to protect the rights of the unborn. Unfortunately for them, however, with Trump revealing that he will pick a judge from the list of candidates from which Gorsuch was drawn, the appointment of a concrete conservative majority in the Supreme Court is all but certain.
“File this as yet another entry in the “elections have consequences” scrapbook,” wrote Anthony Zurcher for BBC. “If Hillary Clinton had prevailed in 2016, Democrats would be contemplating a 6-3 liberal Supreme Court majority and an opportunity to reshape the legal landscape for a generation. Instead, on subjects like abortion law and gay rights, the pendulum is swinging the other direction.”