Unnamed sources have told the Washington Examiner‘s Paul Bedard that Clarence Thomas is considering retiring from the Supreme Court after the 2016 election. They say Thomas never planned to stay on the Court until he died, and has been considering retirement for a while. Ginni Thomas, the justice’s wife, posted a public denial of this rumor on Facebook, saying “IT. IS. BOGUS!” Her post has been added at the end of this article.
After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, Thomas’s retirement would leave only three conservatives on the Supreme Court: John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy — and Kennedy has sided with the liberals on numerous issues, most notably gay marriage. It is already perhaps a bit generous to call the current 4-4 court divided between conservatives and liberals, but without Thomas it would shift into true blue territory.
The next president is expected to replace the seat left vacant by Scalia, and in the unlikely event Thomas retires, that would be two Supreme Court appointments right off the bat. And with two of the least popular major party nominees in history, half of America is almost guaranteed to end up very angry about the makeup of the court.
If Donald Trump becomes president and nominates two conservative justices (to replace both Scalia and Thomas), there would be a slight conservative edge to the court unless one of the conservative justices becomes more liberal. Trump laid out a stellar list of potential appointees, but will that be enough to rally conservatives to his cause?
If Hillary Clinton takes the Oval Office, however, she may get the chance to flip two Republican seats almost immediately, giving the liberals a 6-3 majority. Worse, very few liberal justices end up supporting conservative causes, while the opposite happens all too frequently.
Even if Thomas does not retire, other justices are also old and may be headed for intentional or unintentional retirement. Anthony Kennedy is 80 years old, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, and Stephen Breyer will be 77. The average age for a justice retiring is 78.7.
The 2016 election may be one of the most consequential in history for the Supreme Court, and most Americans don’t like their options. Nevertheless, their votes may determine the makeup of the Court for decades to come.
Again, Thomas’s wife has denied these rumors. Here is her uncategorical rejection of the idea her husband is retiring: