Will Justice Anthony Kennedy Regret Retiring From the Supreme Court?

When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announcedon Wednesday that he would be retiring on July 31 after serving 30 years on the bench, he sparked a debate over who would get the nod from the president to take his place.

But will the 81-year-old justice regret his departure from what many consider to be a lifetime position? After all, Kennedy was often a swing vote on the court, and the justice who replaces him will likely be a staunch conservative.

"There's something jarring about the ad hoc nature of the timing of Supreme Court retirements and the presidential power to appoint new justices," David Pozen, a professor at the Columbia University school of law, told Newsweek.

Pozen experienced the retirement of a Supreme Court Justice firsthand when working as a law clerk for John Paul Stevens from 2009 to 2010.

Stevens decided to step down from the court at the age of 90, and at the time was the third-longest serving justice in the court's history. But unlike Kennedy, Stevens announced his plan to retire months before the last day of the judicial session, and Pozen recalled Stevens writing an increased number of opinions in his final cases.

"He had been in the court quite a long time, and I don't think he had any doubts about maybe holding on longer," Pozen said. "I think he knew it was time."

Also unlike Kennedy, Stevens didn't retire in the middle of one of the most controversial presidencies in recent history. President Donald Trump already has a short list on hand of exceptionally conservative lawyers and judges for the next Supreme Court nomination, causing panicamong Democrats, who are trying to push the nomination of a new justice until after the 2018 midterm elections.

"It seems like Kennedy is retiring in a situation where he could have gone on a little bit longer," Pozen said. "If you're a Democrat, it's deeply depressing."

Benjamin Horwich also experienced the retirement of a key Supreme Court Justice when he was a law clerk for Sandra Day O'Connor from 2005 to 2006. O'Connor, the first female judge to ever be appointed to the Court, served on the bench for 24 years before retiring at the age of 76. At the time she had not cited any specific reasons for her departure.

"There were certainly reports that if she could have seen the future she probably wouldn't have announced her retirement," Horwich told Newsweek.

That supposed regret is largely due to what happened after O'Connor's announcement, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died while serving on the bench. Suddenly, there were two open Supreme Court seats to be filled by President George W. Bush.

Kennedy's departure leaves the Supreme Court open to the possibility of becoming much more conservative, as he often provided the swing vote in progressive decisions such as legalizing same-sex marriage and upholding key parts of the Affordable Care Act.

But some have speculated that Kennedy doesn't care enough about these issues to carry on as a Supreme Court justice or to regret his decision to leave.

"With one more Supreme Court vote, the conservative minority in this country will have the power to uphold laws designed to force pregnant women into motherhood," Erin Gloria Ryan wrote for The Daily Beast. "And that's the most depressing thing about Kennedy's announcement. Kennedy isn't an anti-choice activist. He just doesn't care, at least not enough to remain."