President Donald Trump, the incumbent Republican seeking re-election, or presumptive Democrat nominee former Vice President Joe Biden could appoint as many as four Supreme Court Justices in the next four years, making the issue yet again a major deciding factor as voters determine which one to back ahead of November’s electoral contest.
Rumors swirled this week that conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were considering retirement sometime soon. Thomas, 72, was appointed by George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. Alito, 70, was appointed by George W. Bush in the early 2000s. Both are conservative stalwarts and vacancies of either of their positions could throw the new emboldened conservative majority on the court solidified by Trump’s appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh—who replaced swing vote Anthony Kennedy in 2018—into doubt.
Trump has already left his mark on the Supreme Court, driving it further to the right away from the middle, with the appointment of Kavanaugh to replace Kennedy and Justice Neil Gorsuch who replaced the late Antonin Scalia. But Chief Justice John Roberts, another George W. Bush appointee, has joined the liberal Justices on the Court in some recent key decisions helping hold back a rising potential conservative tide from the nation’s final arbiter of key disputes. But even with Roberts—who also presided, per the Constitution, over the GOP-led U.S. Senate’s impeachment trial that acquitted Trump of charges brought by Democrat-run U.S. House—joining the liberal wing on some decisions, the court is decidedly more conservative than in recent years.
Top conservatives close to Thomas and Alito quickly shot down the idea they would retire this year, with for instance Judicial Crisis Network president Carrie Severino—who once clerked for Thomas—saying such rumors circulate every year around this time.