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Bar Bulletin: Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee won’t significantly impact group, next ones could shift balance

By Geddes Anderson Jr., The Jacksonville Bar Association president

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he nominated 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court instead of one of several more vocal conservative judges that had been considered.

Regardless of which conservative Trump selected to succeed the late Antonin Scalia, the 5-4 conservative majority will not change.

Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch replaces a conservative with a conservative, so the selection of is essentially a wash.

However, Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee stands to have a significant impact upon our nation’s jurisprudence.

The conservative majority vacillates because of  “swing justice.” Justice Anthony Kennedy votes with the court’s liberals from time to time making the court a liberal majority on some issues, so it is Trump’s next appointment that will most likely result in a 6-3 conservative majority.

Even if Justice Kennedy swings to the liberal side of a particular issue, his vote would be neutralized by five conservatives. With this Supreme Court makeup, many of its longstanding decisions could change in dramatic fashion.

During the campaign, Trump espoused his belief that one of the most important issues was the shaping of the Supreme Court.

Trump said one of the primary reasons he was elected was to follow through with his promise to nominate conservative judges to the bench and exit polling demonstrated that to be true.

On the campaign trail, Trump noted his supporters and conservatives in general did not like the trend of appointments by Democratic and Republican presidents.

Conservative hard-liners have certainly been disappointed by Republican appointments, including Justice David H. Souter, who joined the liberal minority before retiring during President Barack Obama’s terms in office.

Other Republican appointments –– Justices Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor –– have voted in unpredictable fashion as well.

Even the current chief justice, John Roberts Jr., a Republican appointment, has voted in favor of the liberal bloc in recent written opinions rejecting challenges to Obamacare.

Trump wanted to appoint someone who does not just look conservative but is actually conservative on the bench.

During his campaign, Trump promised his nominees will be truly conservative judges who have demonstrated a record of being pro-life and who will guard the right to bear arms secured by the Second Amendment.

Judge Gorsuch, an Episcopalian, would be the only Protestant justice along with three Jewish justices and five Catholic justices.

You can bet that Democrats will do their best to block any nominee by Trump as retribution for the Republican refusal to consider for nearly a year Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.

Democrats believe the Republicans effectively stole a Supreme Court seat by their delay tactics during the Senate confirmation process.

What is the likelihood that Trump will have an opportunity to nominate more than one Supreme Court Justice?

The answer is very likely.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the most liberal justice, will be 84 in a couple of months. The “swing justice” Anthony Kennedy is 80 and liberal justice Stephen Breyer is 78.

That means Trump could get up to three more appointments, even more likely if he is re-elected in 2020.

If we fast-forward in time, it is reasonable to project the Supreme Court could have only two liberal justices at the end of Trump’s presidency.

With an overwhelming majority of conservatives on the Supreme Court, our laws could dramatically change for generations.

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