Dear Justice Kennedy,
As you have no doubt heard, rumors of your impending retirement are, for the second year in a row, echoing around Washington and across America. While you and your colleagues on the Supreme Court were listening to the final oral arguments of the term in recent days, those rumors were only growing more insistent.
How can we put this the right way? Please don’t go.
Sitting between the four liberal justices and the four conservatives, you are the most powerful member of the most powerful court in the country, as you have been for at least a decade. Your vote, more than that of any other justice, has delivered landmark legal victories for Americans of all political stripes, from gays and lesbians seeking equal rights to African-American college students seeking a better education to deep-pocketed corporations seeking to spend more money influencing politics.
You have sent mixed signals about your intentions, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans in Congress from referring to your departure as a done deal. (Of course, they said the same thing last year.) They smell blood — if they can install another rock-ribbed conservative like Neil Gorsuch, the court will have a locked-in right-wing majority for the rest of most of our lifetimes. They won’t even have to steal a seat to do it.
Have past justices given a thought to politics when considering the timing of their exit from the court? Of course they have, whether or not they copped to it. But this moment is about so much more than partisan jockeying. We can’t know what is in your heart, Your Honor, but we do know what your departure right now would mean for the court, and for the nation. It would not be good.