Why did 81-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy, known best for his decisions protecting gay and abortion rights, choose to retire at the time that best enables Donald Trump to appoint a right wing successor who will most likely vote to reverse those decisions? Adam Liptak and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times give us the answer. Trump “guiled” him. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/28/us/politics/trump-anthony-kennedy-retirement.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
Liiptak and Haberman outline a “flattery” campaign aimed at convincing Kennedy his legacy would be honored. A key pressure point was Justice Kennedy’s affection for his former clerks. Trump’s first Supreme Court nomination was Neil Gorsuch, a former Kennedy clerk. Kennedy himself was chosen to give Gorsuch the judicial oath at his swearing in, an occasion that permitted Trump to lavishly praise Kennedy (“a great man of outstanding accomplishment”).
Then the White House announced two sitting federal judges were being considered candidates for the next Supreme Court vacancy; they too had been Kennedy clerks. And Trump also managed in his first year to appoint three other former Kennedy clerks to federal appeals courts.
Trump also reminded Kennedy that they had a personal connection (“Say hello to your boy– a special guy”). Kennedy’s son, Justin, had been Trump’s banker for many years. When Kennedy later reciprocated the attention by inviting Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her young daughter to be his personal guests at the Supreme Court, Ivanka tweeted their gratitude for being able to see “our legal system firsthand.”
All the steps in Trump’s serenade of Kennedy are examples of guile– clever, disingenuous ploys designed to accomplish an unannounced goal. Liptak and Haberman are quick to point out that there is nothing unethical in their use. I agree. Flattery, even insincere flattery, is a well-established part of social intercourse.
There is no shame in being the perpetrator of guile, but also no honor in being its willing victim.