The announcement that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring, which will prompt a confirmation battle heading into the Fall mid-term election cycle, is already raising the stakes in contested U.S. Senate races across the country. Democrats are defending Senate seats in ten states that President Donald Trump carried in 2016, including five that he won by double digits. The confirmation of a replacement for the 82 year old Justice will certainly have an impact on Tennessee’s Senate race.
Trump has already indicated that his appointment of a replacement for Kennedy will come from the list of conservatives that he named during his election campaign, along with five others he added last Fall. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a vote for the confirmation of a new Justice will come this Fall.
Liberal activists are already melting down over the announced retirement, though it was widely anticipated. In fact, a Democratic National Committee rules committee was on a conference call when the announcement came and the anguished reactions were audible.
Conservative Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is among those thought to be on Trump’s short list, and was among those on the initial list of 25 conservatives that Trump plans to pick from. Three other names that are already drawing significant speculation are Federal Appellate Judges Brett Kavanaugh from the DC Appellate Court (who once clerked for Kennedy), Amul Tharper from Kentucky and Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana. Trump has indicated that he will quickly make an announcement of his selection.
For Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07), who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Bob Corker and facing a tough contest against former Tennessee Democratic Party Governor Phil Bredesen, the upcoming confirmation fight will help her underline the importance of electing a Senator from the state who will confirm conservative Justices and Judges. Bredesen will almost certainly be called upon to declare how he would vote in the confirmation process, but his fellow Democrats’ votes will also impact the credibility of Bredesen’s position. Doug Jones, who campaigned as a “different” kind of Democrat in order to win in Red State Alabama, will almost certainly oppose any Trump nominee. Bredesen will need to clarify how he is more likely to balk at the Democratic Party leadership’s direction than Jones and others.
Democrat Senators facing tough reelection bids, such as Bill Nelson (D-FL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) will face intense pressure to confirm Trump’s selection while trying to avoid antagonizing their party faithful. Bredesen will have to deal with the same scrutiny.
As The Tennessee Star reported, Bredesen’s public comments on Wednesday about where he stood on a replacement for Justice Kennedy were evasive.