WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Senate committee that handles Supreme Court nominees said on Friday he no longer expected an imminent court vacancy, bolstering assumptions that Justice Anthony Kennedy would not retire this year.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said expectations earlier this year of a vacancy on the nine-member bench had evaporated.
“Evidently that’s not going to happen,” Grassley said in a telephone interview from his home state of Iowa during the Senate’s summer break. “I don’t have any expectation we will have a vacancy as I thought there would be” earlier this year.
There had been speculation in the spring that Kennedy, a conservative justice who turned 81 last month and has served on the court since 1988, was considering retirement. Kennedy is the regular swing vote on the high court, sometimes siding with the four liberal justices in major rulings.
A court vacancy would give Republican President Donald Trump a chance to appoint a second conservative justice to the high court since taking office in January.
But court watchers expect Trump to nominate a jurist who is more likely to consistently decide cases with the conservative wing of the court, unlike Kennedy.
In the interview on Friday, Grassley noted that every year there is speculation that a justice might retire during the summer at the end of the court’s session.
He declined to give details on the “rumors” he had heard earlier this year about an impending vacancy. Grassley added that such talk is often stoked when there are justices in their 70s and 80s serving on the court.
Besides Kennedy, 81, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 84 and Stephen Breyer will turn 79 next week.
Rumors that Kennedy was set to retire reached a fever pitch several months ago…