Top GOP senator: Supreme Court justice resignation expected ‘this summer’

Chief Justice John Roberts and U.S. Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor while attending President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in January 2016. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

Chief Justice John Roberts and U.S. Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor while attending President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2016. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

While visiting his district this week, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said another opening on the nation’s high court could be in the cards as soon as this year.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told the Muscatine Journal during a visit to the area on Tuesday that an upcoming resignation from among the nine-justice bench had been rumored.

“I would expect a resignation this summer,” Grassley said, without naming a justice tied to the speculation.

Grassley heads the important committee charged with the initial hearings on nominees to the federal court system and was influential in both blocking hearings Judge Merrick Garland — President Obama’s choice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia — and moving to confirm President Trump’s pick, Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch, described as an originalist jurist, restored the 5-4 conservative balance to the bench left with Scalia’s unexpected death last February. As such, his confirmation avoided a shift in polarity that a more liberal nominee would have meant. However, constitutional law scholars point out that an additional judge in the mold of Scalia may be needed to sway the court on important gun rights legislation that has been refused by the court over the past several years.

“Justice Gorsuch is expected to be a proponent of strong Second Amendment rights,” UCLA law professor Adam Winkler told Guns.com. “But he could end up surprising people, as he has never ruled on a core Second Amendment issue. His vote on the Supreme Court is not likely to change much on guns in the short term. Even with Scalia, there were not enough justices willing to take an assault weapons ban case or a concealed carry case.”

Some have already cautioned not to bank on any of the justices retiring soon. Court watcher David Lat, writing for Above the Law, noted in January the justices had hired four law clerks each for the October 2017 term which runs through June 2018.

“Retired justices get just one clerk each while active justices get four, and justices with retirement on their minds typically hire just one clerk until they’re sure they’ll be sticking around,” Lat said.

It was widely held during the 2016 presidential election that the winner would stand to nominate several new associate justices to the court in the span of a four-year term. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an appointment by President Clinton, is 84 while Justice Anthony Kennedy, nominated by President Reagan and often characterized as a swing vote between poles on the bench, is 80.