Trump's Supreme Court pick spreads insecurity, fear among US Muslims

Trump's Supreme Court pick spreads insecurity, fear among US Muslims
US progressives and liberals brace themselves as President Donald Trump prepares to appoint a second Supreme Court justice.
3 min read
28 June, 2018
Kennedy's departure gives Trump a second opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice [Getty]

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has often cast the tie-breaking vote between the top US court's liberal and conservative judges, on Wednesday announced his intention to retire after 30 years sitting on one of the most powerful bodies in US politics.

Kennedy's departure at the end of July will give President Donald Trump the chance - for the second time in during his presidency - to appoint a more staunchly conservative judge to the nine-seat bench, spelling a historic swing to the right for the court, which exerts a deep and far-ranging influence on American life.

As America's liberals despaired, some turned to humour, making comparisons between the US Supreme Court and Iran's Guardian Council, the 12-member power-wielding body of ultra-conservative religious jurists.

Paying tribute to Kennedy as "a great justice of the Supreme Court," Trump told reporters the replacement process will "begin immediately."

Read more: Trump's Muslim ban based off bogus polling and AIPAC funding

"Hopefully we will pick someone who is just as outstanding," he told reporters in the Oval Office.

Kennedy's vote, positioned at the very centre of the court, gives him a place of special prominence among the nine justices. Trump is to upset this arrangement through appointing a staunch conservative, which he has done once previously with Neil Gorsuch. This would total five right-wingers against four remaining liberals sitting on the court.

Such an imbalance would make it almost impossible to pass laws in favour of women's rights and liberalising abortion, expanding LGBT+ rights, prison reform, as well as religious freedom and fighting race and other discrimination.

It is on these issues that Kennedy cast the deciding vote in a number of historic cases, including the high court's groundbreaking decision in 2015 legalising gay marriage, a five-to-four decision for which he wrote the opinion.

For years, he has infuriated conservatives with decisions striking down prayer at public school graduations and upholding abortion rights - and exasperated liberals with decisions on affirmative action and campaign finance laws.

Arabs and Muslims are among the many factions of American society harbouring considerable fear over who will take up the empty seat in the Supreme Court. On top of a hostile approach to immigration law and refugee rights, a clampdown on religious freedoms would likely disproportionately target Muslim practices and foster further islamophobia, signalling the end to the liberalism which allowed multi-cultural America to flourish.

Read more: Supreme Court blesses Trump's Muslim ban, undermines religious liberty

What strikes fear right into the hearts of America's progressives is Supreme Justice's life-long tenure - only by resignation or death do they give up their seats. This will enable Trump's legacy to prevail much longer than his presidential term, potentially many decades into the future.

Despite these fears for the future, the present Supreme Court -  with Kennedy holding the "centre" - still voted 5-4 to uphold Trump's travel ban on Tuesday. The ban affects mostly Muslim countries, which has been widely attacked as racist, hateful and an attack on religious liberty.

Agencies contributed to this report.